Via Basel: Male Spirit Retreat
In mid-September, Basel Al-Aswad attended the Male Spirit Retreat at LaSalle Manor in Plano, Illinois, an offering of the Shem Center for Interfaith Spirituality, based in Oak Park. EIL’s founder, Christopher R. Al-Aswad, had accompanied his father on this men’s retreat twice before, and this time Basel accompanied John Griffin, Chris’s best friend from high school, whose wedding he had recently officiated.
The theme of the retreat was poetry: “Life Is…so contribute your verse,” and the men were invited to express themselves in poetry journals after reading several sample poems. Basel was particularly inspired by “The Portrait,” by Stanley Kunitz, a poem about his mother’s anger at his father’s suicide. Many of the men at the retreat wrote poems about their fathers, but Basel wrote about the night he learned of his son’s death at a gathering of medical residents in his home. Basel had just reprised that mentoring gathering in August, and you can read an account of that event here in the Via Basel section of the EIL Blog. For now, here is Basel’s journal poem, a calm yet emotional recounting of the disorientation of learning the awful and inevitable truth:
It started joyfully.
Young men and women,
Residents, streaming into my apartment,
Loud laughter, heated discussions,
Kebabs, hummus, and tabouli,
Spices and herbs permeating their senses.
They filled my place, spilled onto the balcony,
Gentle breezes, soothing views
Of Lake Michigan and Millennium Park.
A phone rings incessantly…
This is the ER at Northwestern Hospital
Are you Basel Al-Aswad?
Yes, yes, but I’m not on call…
You are Chris’s father?…come immediately
My heart sinks, my mind is clouded
A ton of bricks bury me alive
The time has arrived, the gathering is over.
In writing the poem, Basel at first encountered his own discomfort and fear, a fear of exposure, of critique and self-critique—in this way experiencing something his son had often expressed in his own journals and blog essays. In a way, the writing of the poem was a further bonding with Chris, through shared experience, in an unexpected way but in a safe place, the men’s retreat Basel had attended many times before. And just as Chris drafted many a poem in his journal, Basel has now drafted a poem in his Male Spirit Retreat poetry journal. “The time has arrived, the gathering is over.”
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Chris Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family.