In this poem by contemporary American poet Stephen Dunn, a guardian angel despairs of being able to protect the souls in his charge. But he is "in for the long haul" and keeps trying to help--and trying "to believe / everything he does takes root,hums // beneath the surfaces of the world." This poem could launch a rich discussion of how we deal with the limits of our ability to help--including limits on our own energy, empathy, or faith in the value of what we do.
New and Selected Poems by Stephen Dunn. WW Norton, 1989.
Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.
Should we love the people we serve?What does empathy look like?How far should we go in trying to identify with those we serve?Is it important to set boundaries? Why?What are the limits of my ability to help or serve?Is my service effective? How do I know?What do I hope my work accomplishes?
Sample Discussion Questions
- The poem starts with the angel "afloat between lives and stale truths." What might this mean? Whose lives, and what truths?
- Who does the angel try to help, and how?
- What is "shameless" about "thinking about utility and self"? Is it ever justified or necessary to think about oneself when doing service? To consider the utility or effectiveness of service?
- Why does the angel believe that his service is ineffective? Is he right?
- Why does the angel live for a month with the other angels? What happens to him then? Does this interlude make any difference when he returns to his work on earth?
- What might it mean "to live / beyond despair"? What "hums // beneath the surfaces of the world"?
- What is it that we believe, or need to believe, in order to go on working or serving?