I’ve been mulling over my time at L’Abri lately… and oh, I’m so close to writing about it. I’ll probably be doing so for a while. There’s so much to say… I’m not sure where to begin, so I’ll start with poetry.
At L’Abri, I found restoration in every single aspect of my life. I found the direction I was seeking and healing for wounds buried so deep that I didn’t even know existed. With my fellow students, I found easy friendship. Through weekly lectures and discussion lunches, my intellectual capacity was pushed and stimulated for the first time since graduating college.
Despite being in a Christian environment, one of the strongest influences on my personal life wasn’t a Bible passage or hymn. No. I came alive the most through poetry. Specifically, through Lord Tennyson and T.S. Eliot. Today, I’m going to focus on the later.
Throughout the term, I continually returned to Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. I first encountered Prufrock in a survey course in college. Then, I found it confusing. It came during a unit on modernist works and, after reading Austen, Dickens, and the Romantics, I wasn’t in the mood. I took note of my professor’s interpretation, studied enough to pass the exam, and put it out of my mind.
Encountering Prufrock at L’Abri broke my heart more and more the longer I dwelled in it. The poem is about relationships–about our inability to communicate with, to relate with, to understand another person. It’s about longing to reach out, to share your inner self with others and, in return, partake in their worlds, but failing every time. The poem’s speaker constantly attempts to connect, mustering great courage to do so, only to be woefully misunderstood and misjudged. Eliot blends these insecurities masterfully with images of commonplace, everyday life. He writes, “I have measured my life in coffee spoons“.
There’s a lot in the poem that still goes over my head, but Eliot’s words cut deep. The more time I spent with Prufrock, the more I understood my own experience. As people, we all have baggage, and I found my own beautifully expressed. It was as if my own insecurities were splattered on the page. I saw myself in the lines. During my final session with my mentor, I read her the poem. Stanza by stanza, I explained to her how it expresses my own journey of learning to do relationships. Together, we processed my experiences and spent time soaking in the words. I never knew poetry could be experienced in this way–in a way that hits so near the mark that it brings you near tears.
The poem has a bleak ending–the final line has to do with drowning among human voices. Although I deeply relate to Prufrock, I do not share in the despair. My time at L’Abri gave me a taste of the richness of relationships. I found myself being healed simply through doing life with people who loved and accepted me unconditionally. Even better, I had the joy of loving those people in return. I had the honor of working side by side with them, cooking meals with and for them, keeping the Manor clean for them, exploring the countryside with them, singing with them in church choir… the list could go on forever.
What a beautiful thing is, friendship. Loving and serving those you care about makes the sorrows of the world fade away.
I’m home now. My precious L’Abri friends are now scattered across the globe and, although I feel restored, I think I’ll always be sensitive in some areas. But that’s okay. I have hope. With the help of friendship and poetry, my confidence is restored. I’m not the problem, I never was. I just have to keep trying, keep reaching out, keep moving forward.
That’s all anyone can do.
Now that I’m regaining normalcy, I’m doing my best to integrate poetry into my day to day life. From L’Abri, I’ve learned that poetry is a powerful thing–much more so than my literature classes in college let on. I’ve been eyeing the collection of Yeats on my shelves for a couple of years now and have decided to start reading a poem a day. Who knows what I’ll discover next?