The older I get, the more I’m convinced that there’s nothing a little reading couldn’t cure.
I’m not talking about the omnipresent self-help books – the likes of which constitute a $10+ billion industry in the United States alone. Not at all.
For some reason – maybe for many reasons – most of which I admittedly do not understand, I woke up this morning having dreamed about Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.”
July 8, is curiously, the anniversary of the death of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose version of “Ozymandias” I encountered somewhere along my poetic journey many years ago. But, I have never been one for remembering specific dates – gosh, I forget my family members’ birthdays from time to time. And, the flash of the title of this particular poem across the backs of my twitching REM eyelids remains a complete mystery. I have surely read more of Mary Oliver and Billy Collins’ poems of late than the works of the Romantics.
In any case, there’s no doubt in my mind that “Ozymandias,” while nearly 200 years old, is worth picking up and dusting off for a little re-reading. Like chicken soup or an apple a day, this sonnet may just be what the doctor ordered, good for what ails us in these times.
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . .near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Without getting too deeply mired in analysis, I’m sure that my dream about “Ozymandias” was partly about the joy of waking up from such powerful images and words of warning to a brand new day at Caroline Center. A place so completely free of pretense – to greatness or otherwise. A place where there are no “frowns” or “wrinkled lips,” let alone “sneers.” A community so vital, that it defies the lifelessness of body and spirit displayed on Ozymandias’ “shattered visage.” A community so rich in meaning, that it is immune to the senseless decay to which Ozymandias ultimately succumbed. At Caroline Center, there are no pedestals onto which to climb or from which to fall. There is no call for foolish bluster. And, there is every reason “to look upon our works” and to have only boundless hope.
At Caroline Center, we welcome all “travelers” into a safe community, a place of “delight and rest.” We welcome women who have arrived from hard places in their lives – places they will never forget . . . but with our education and support, they may soon begin to feel are places from long ago and far away. We welcome journeyers, who though they may still be quite young, have traversed an unlikely span of years and survived more harsh experiences than most people could have endured in two lifetimes.
Graduation for Class 67, our current class, is at the end of July. And, every trainee and candidate for graduation has traveled a far distance to what will surely be a better life.
When Caroline Center enrolled this class nearly 15 weeks ago, a quarter of the women did not have enough food for themselves and their families; close to 10% needed housing; 15% had no medical coverage; better than half of the women were trying to care for themselves as well as raise their children; and, more than 75% of the class had expressed a need for individual counseling.
The bold, new landscape ahead for Class 67 graduates, which will include professional internships and the first exhilarating days in new careers as certified nursing assistants and pharmacy technicians, will be vastly more promising than the desolate terrain in those final lines of “Ozymandias,” where “the lone and level sands stretch far away.”
As I put the puzzling dream of “Ozymandias” behind me, I’m thinking about how far "the great" often fall and how seldom they land in the arms of the good.
"Dreaming of Ozymandias" is dedicated to the memory of our good friend and colleague, Jacqueline M. Buedel (1955-2017). A true devotee of The Breakroom, Jackie was often my first reader of draft posts that I hoped would garner wider approval and be worthy of publication. "Dreaming of Ozymandias" was the last post Jackie read - just days before her death on July 10. As I remember, she liked it a lot.