The Image of Love

The Image of Love
Poetry and other reflections by Thorne McFarlane

In the gallery of memoirs, lies the image of love,
Redeeming with the grace and power from above,
In pursuit of humbler things, of all things desired,
In pursuit of invisible blessings are to be admired,
A quiet home, gentle aspirations, the muse of life,
The unbreakable bond between husband and wife,
The darkest of storms always bring the purest light,
Just one ounce of sunshine can sprout seeds of hope,
And the climbing joys overcome the downhill slope,
I see the stars in your eyes, the portrait now painted,
The picture wasn’t at all perfect, but we still made it.

Love is a bridge. If we can build and link both sides together, only then can we rise above the rough waters. If we disconnect and go headstrong, we will surely plummet.

Love is not judging,
It does not take advantage,
It is not faithless.
It does not forsake commitment.

Love is a temporary shelter. It keeps an opened entrance, but also allows an opened exit. If you can’t let love in or let it find its path out of your life, then you won’t have love.

Love is not selfish,
It is not jealous,
It is not pretentious,
It does not take,
It does not expect in return.

Love is an amazing force of human nature. Of all the things on this earth which should matter the most to any person, it is love. Nothing else brings reason to life, essence to humble souls, and redemption to all things. Nothing else is as universal as the image of love. Love is the cure for pain and the answer to injustice. It is timeless each moment and momentous each time. Cherish every moment of love. Don’t let anything obstruct something as precious and prized as the jewel of love.

Place of Placidity

 

Place of Placidity: Seeking Inspiration and Balance through Yoga

I was never a fan of high school gym class. Sports left me humiliated in a puddle of my own inadequacy. In trying to keep pace with my classmates, I was often left breathless. So you can imagine my hesitancies when I enrolled in a requisite yoga class in college. Standing in the gymnasium with my black roll-up mat, I never imagined that this form of exercise would have such an enduring impact on my life.

Since birth, I have always struggled with chronic and debilitating medical complications triggered by my disease. Sickle-cell anemia is a disease which mutates the body’s blood cells, turning them sickle-shaped. Normal blood cells are donut-shaped, but sickle-cell disease turns these cells sickle-shaped. The irregularly-shaped blood cells do not carry oxygen efficiently, do not survive very long, and can get lodged in the bloodstream, causing constant pain. One of the most frustrating things about this disease is that it presents itself as an invisible disability, leading to a general lack of understanding among the sickle-cell community.

However, I refuse to let this disease seize my life and silence my aspirations. Instead, I hope to shed some light on the disease, while also delving into how I use yoga to cope with the disease’s limitations. The aforementioned lack of awareness about the disease remains an object worthy of illumination in the sickle-cell community. The sad reality is that far too often sickle-cell sufferers overextend themselves in their attempts to remain fit. The disease has been blamed for the deaths of a handful of aspiring athletes. It is an unfair reminder of the physical limitations imposed by the disease.  While there is no danger in recognizing our limitations, there is great danger in being polarized by them. The polarization process is a process of overcompensation, goading us to internalize these limitations until they become ingrained into our very thought patterns.

When I practice yoga, I embrace a consciousness of liberation. I listen to my body and respect its limitations using warm-up exercises. I gradually condition my body to try more advanced poses. It’s a very organic approach to exercise. I don’t believe that there is only one path to fitness; we are all at different stages in terms of our health and conditioning. Sickle-cell anemia causes a deficiency of healthy red blood cells in the body. This description can be shorted down into one word: energy. Those who have donated large amounts of blood can relate to the depleted feeling that may follow. For those with sickle-cell anemia, this energy drain is felt on a daily basis. To counteract this, sickle-cell patients often require blood transfusions to boost their low blood count.

Few things are as demoralizing as not having the physical energy to do the activities that bring meaning and purpose to one’s life. On a spiritual level, it conveys a feeling of helplessness and inadequacy. With yoga, I appreciate the fact that I do not have to struggle to “find” energy. It invigorates me beyond the physical level. Breathing is a core component of yoga, and illustrates the vital importance of energy. Each breath we take should not be taken for granted; it should be used to energize and imbue us with a sense of purpose. Dum spiro, spero.

The loss of energy felt by sickle-cell sufferers brings a sense of imbalance. When your body is starved of oxygen, it becomes exceedingly difficult to maintain physical stability. Even simple tasks like walking up a flight of stairs can leave one disoriented. One of the first poses I learned in yoga, the star pose, helped me to regain balance and physical stability. I have also benefitted from the ways yoga uses the lymphatic system to flush away the body’s toxins.

On a deeper level, balance carries different connotations. Some people struggle to balance several jobs. Others seek balance in what they eat or by what they do. Put simply, balance is difficult. Happiness, Thomas Merton once wrote, is not a matter of intensity, but of balance. One of the most interesting poses, the plank pose, epitomizes this balance. The plank pose is a supine pose that is meant to ease physical tension and mental disquiet. In the course of an intensive workout, the plank prose provides a nice juxtaposition. Reflecting the turbulence of life, yoga takes one from a state of high energy to a state of low energy, representing the duality of activity and inactivity needed to maintain balance. In a society that often equates intensity with happiness, yoga reinforces the importance of stillness. Stillness, however, is not synonymous with latency. It is not a place of absence. It is a place of searching and contemplation.

I would have never assumed that yoga would have such relevance in my life. Make no mistake; my goal is not to champion yoga above all forms of exercise, but to encourage others to consider options that make sense to them. Fitness becomes all the more meaningful when it opens up unexpected avenues of self-exploration and consciousness. Max Ehrmann’s influential poem “Desiderata” has always been a source of inspiration in my life. In it, Ehrmann offers this piece of advice: “regardless of your trials and tribulations, keep peace in your soul.” When I practice yoga, I’m not in competition with myself or with others. I am practicing fitness while also seeking placidity.

Note: I do not claim to have any expert, medical knowledge about the disease. I speak only through experience and research I have done on the topic. The South Central Pennsylvania Sickle-Cell Association is a great resource for those with sickle-cell disease/trait living in the area.

 

Handsworth Revolution

Thorne’s Critique:

Steel Pulse’s Handsworth Revolution is a daring, politically-charged album that holds no punches in its bare critique of social inequality.
Rating: 8.5/10

Handsworth Revolution (1978) strays from the typical reggae blueprint of sun-drenched grooves and carefree themes. Breaking free from this mold, Handsworth Revolution is an exquisite roots reggae album by a band looking to establish its musical identity. The album is every bit as raw and contentious as its title would suggest. Don’t let the grungy exterior fool you though, Handsworth Revolution is a diamond in the rough.

Immediately, Steel Pulse establishes the pace with the titular track. “Handsworth Revolution” is a heartfelt yearning for widespread change, coming from the steely Handsworth area that seems to grace the band’s album cover. Confronting racial discrimination, injustice and corruption, the band sings about reclaiming its hometown for future generations. The deceivingly-collected rhythm quickly erupts into a rapid-fire, impromptu spoken-word verse towards the end of the song. “Handsworth Revolution” holds no punches and serves as a solid introduction to prelude the rest of the album.

Steel Pulse follows with the derelict “Bad Man” – a song so primal in its delivery that it almost sounds as though it was produced deep within the jungle badlands. Lead singer David Hinds’ taunts to “leave town” are embellished by guitar riffs and a cacophony of guttural chants from the background singers. Hinds also uses clever metaphors to illustrate his point: there can be no sharing of power, because he is the “badder” man. Make no mistake; “Bad Man” is full of bravado and pretension. However, if one examines the song more closely, there are also subtle signs of weakness and insecurity. “Bad Man” is also a message about slavery. “Four-hundred years” and “strange fruit” are meaningful historical references that give the song its intellectual edge.

One of the more reserved tracks on the album, “Sound Check” is an odd, but thoughtful ode to music and dance. “Prodigal Son” highlights the album, with its foreboding rhythm and highly critical lyrics. The song artfully uses the jeremiad rhetorical device and draws upon the Biblical parable to craft a transcendent narrative of redemption. “Prodigal Son” is a powerful, apocalyptic admonishment of a wayward, materialistic society on the brink of collapse. Finally, “Ku Klux Klan” is every bit as fiery as the title would suggest. The rebellious “Ku Klux Klan” is quintessential Steel Pulse material.

Uncompromising and politically-charged, Handsworth Revolution is an anomaly in the reggae genre. With one foot in the Caribbean roots reggae scene and the other foot in the punk movement in England at the time, the album would eventually become representative of Steel Pulse’s unique sphere of influence.

What makes the album such a gem is that it retains its edginess without losing its feel for the music. A common dilemma among politically-themed artists is getting the message across without becoming preachy. Handsworth Revolution effortlessly avoids such pitfalls. What’s more, Steel Pulse needed only eight strong tracks to accomplish this difficult task. Cries of injustice reverberate throughout the concourses of this album, but the album never loses its cadence. The rhythms, though minimalistic, compliment the band’s evocative lyrics. And though Steel Pulse is noted for its great passion and energy, Handsworth Revolution is entirely focused. Deserving of its critical acclaim, the album not only established the Steel Pulse identity, but also solidified the band as a top-tier reggae talent.