! The Life Or Death Question Poem by Michael Shepherd

! The Life Or Death Question

Rating: 2.8

You could guess from the crowd
converging on the Memorial Hall
and on a Saturday night, that
the speaker must be world-famed in his field,
making his first visit to the college.

A French scientist of renown –
cognitive theory or some such –
turned Buddhist monk these thirty, forty years,
he carried the blessing and the curse,
the burden of responsibility not only of his vocation
but his fame. The hall was packed.

Serene – ‘together’ has to be the word –
he spoke for an hour; enthusiastic applause;
then question time.

There’s always that tense silence before
the first question…how will
the hall respond tonight? Will it hold the level
of the speaker’s mind? …we knew all too well
those ‘first question’ students – the one
who had to wrap a compliment in
confectioner’s sugar, eliciting an inward groan –
as if the speaker were unaware of his own ability...
she’d marry rich, then live a life of patronising
complacency bestowing well-publicised charity…

or the one whose ‘clever’ question blatantly advertised
to whoever might be impressed, beyond herself,
that she was already on the speaker’s wavelength
before the lecture and before the rest of us…
she’d commit herself to a future academic life
of maintaining this self-superiority,
exhausting herself, losing friends and influencing few…

but no – tonight it was that wild and self-abusive student
who seldom attended any lecture except to challenge –
‘Can you give me one single reason
why I should go on living? ’..

You could have heard a cliché drop..
a pin; a paperclip; but loud, the universal thought –
how could the speaker know, this was the brilliant boy
of already three serious suicide attempts…
representative of the rite of passage greatly magnified,
sex, drugs, rocknroll, and whatever lay beyond…

‘No… I cannot…’

This was the boy we detested, despaired of, tried to befriend,
hated for his disruption, but almost feared,
feared for the wild openness of his mind…
the hall united in hushed, waiting silence…

‘… for you have given yourself the reason –
you have asked the question few of us
have dared to ask… and a question
sincerely asked, brings its answer with it…

‘..when you hear the answer that your question
holds in its heart, like some golden lotus,
you will have the answers to all questions,
and you will be a wiser, happier man than me…’

only Buddhists and their like can smile
with such detached serenity; with
a space that’s full of meaning. The hall
broke into the laughter of relief; great laughter;
the unqualified love of five hundred students
poured like a mighty river on that boy

who was still standing, wild-haired –
and I saw that he was laughing too
and through my mind flashed the thought,
the air is full of angels..

where had those angels who laughed
so lightly with us, where had those angels been,
before; and would go, after?
The boy, still laughing as he left.

Geoff Warden 08 September 2007

I agree with Tara, MIke. This is truely a read to make the mind think, offers up some rather deep contimplation, nicely done....

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M, this is truly epic. Is it a true story? I'm guessing so, perhaps tailored with poetic licence. You got those question-asking students perfectly depicted... ooh, we both know them so well. And it's deeply, deeply touching, and mind-expanding. You are forcing me to think on a Saturday morning. My hat off to you! :) t x

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Marton, Lancashire
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