Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dr. Reece’s Pieces – May 9 Medinnovation Blog - Spencer - Poet-at.Large and Priest-To-Be : An Update for Mother’s Day

Prelude: Personally, I do not differentiate between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. My wife and I are in this thing called parenthood together. In any event, two years ago I wrote the blog below as a proud father. Today Spencer’s mother suggested I update it. Spencer has now completed two years at Yale Divinity School. He is on track to becoming an Episcopalian priest. Since the following blog was published he has progressed on both the religious and poetic fronts. He has served as a seminarian at Christ Church in Westerly, Rhode Island, where he collaborated in the weekend services, conducted a Sunday poetry group , and led a highly successful, widely-attended, area-wide seminar “Finding Our Spirit in Poetry.” James Franco, the Hollywood actor and director, made his poem “The Clerk’s Tale,” into a short film selected to be part of the closing ceremonies at the Cannes Film Festival this week.

Here is my blog, dated April 5, 2008.

Usually fathers teach sons. For me, the reverse is true. My son taught me what I thought I knew.

My son, Spencer, a well-known poet, will enter Yale Divinity School this fall. Three years later, he will emerge an Episcopalian priest. He wants to serve hospice patients. He now performs this work in a West Palm Beach hospice.

Spencer was born in 1964 at Hartford Hospital, where I was a resident in pathology, and my wife was a nurse. He weighed in at 10 pounds, the biggest kid, in the nursery. OB Nurses called him The Prince.

He attended Bowdoin for two years, graduated from Wesleyan, and earned Masters from York University in England and Harvard Divinity School. Unfortunately, he had no practical career plans.

He toiled for 12 years at Brooks Brothers, first in Minneapolis, then in West Palm Beach and Palm Gardens. During the day he plied the retail trade. In off-hours he composed poetry.

Publishers rejected 300 poems. Spencer persisted. Then, Louise Gluck, America’s poet laureate, spotted his work. She put in his name for the Bakeless Prize at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. He won. A book of poetry, The Clerk’s Tale (Houghlin-Mifflin, 2004) resulted.

Gates opened. Fame followed. He read before the Library of Congress, won a Guggenheim and other prizes, and recited at leading universities and book fairs. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and major Florida papers interviewed him. The American Poetry Review adorned him with a full page picture on its cover, and his essay “A Man of the Cloth” appeared in the New York Times Magazine. He became known as the Bard of Brooks Brothers.

My wife and I attended two of his poetry readings. We came away with these impressions.

1) Poetry is big.

2) Spirituality is back.

3) Materialism is out.

4) People seek hope.

5) Rejection inspires.

A Father’s Learning Curve

What I have learned?

• Importance of humility.
At York, Spencer studied humility in works of Renaissance poets, George Herbert (1593-1633) and John Donne (1572-1631). Humility shines through in Spencer’s readings. People like humility in this age of celebrity self-centeredness and quests for instant fame.

• Power of language.
You see this in Barack Obama’s speeches. In Spencer’s case you sense it in his poetic imagery. Here he describes how a mother reacted to her baby’s death in hospice, “The mother walked out of the room, her arms slackening at her side like old latches on the door of an abandoned house.”

• Dignity of death. As Spencer explained to me, “Dad, all people want as they lay dying is the sense their lives meant something – even if only to themselves.”

Perhaps dignity in death is what John Donne meant,

” Death be not proud, though some have called
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
For those whom thou think’st thou dost
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst though kill me.”

• Spirituality to medicine.
People thirst for spirituality. One hundred of America’s 125 medical schools now have spirituality as part of required courses. People are recognizing science and technology have limits, end-of-life care has a spiritual side, hospice care is relevant, managed care offers little solace, holistic medicine is here to stay. Americans and doctors are maturing in their attitudes towards aging, disease, and death. Machines will not get us out of this alive once the end nears.

When my time comes, I will rejoice. People like my son, Spencer, will be there to comfort me, tell me I meant something, and guide me to what beckons beyond.

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