There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love. ~Washington Irving
I have been trying for two days to figure out what to say about “what happened on Friday.” At first, I decided to say nothing at all. The next blog post I published was a Reverb12 prompt response the day after. When I noticed later in the day that someone had unfollowed my blog, I was sure it was because I hadn’t mentioned it. I felt guilty, that I had this platform, a voice, kind and gentle readers, and I wasn’t saying anything about it.
And yet, so much was already being said, and I didn’t know what to say anyway. How do you speak about such a thing? Where do you even start, what could you possibly say that would make any kind of sense, that would make things even the tiniest bit better? I couldn’t help reading what was being posted on Facebook (okay, could have but chose not to) but I didn’t click many of the links people were posting, I wasn’t listening to the news on the radio or reading it on the web, and I don’t have cable tv so missed all that coverage too.
I told my new friend Tammy not too long ago that “I am never political–that’s just me, I’m a peacemaker–if people are picketing, instead of picking a side, I’d bring everyone sandwiches,” so there was no way I was joining in the political conversation that was developing. And yet, getting sad and posting about that didn’t feel possible. I’ve never been able to watch any of the documentaries or read any of the books written about 9/11. Or Hurricane Katrina, or the tsunami that hit Japan, or any of the various shootings at schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, or various other locations. If I am watching a nature show, and an animal is getting chased or about to be attacked and eaten by another, I can’t watch. I have heard only a few stories about “what happened on Friday,” seen the list of names and a few pictures, heard what other people have had to say, but I won’t go further than that just yet. It’s too raw, too tender, too much.
The last time I willingly watched TV news was the day the Twin Towers fell. After that, I couldn’t take it any more, specifically the way the media focuses on everything that is wrong, amplifies the bad, cultivates anxiety, the way they repeat each horrible thing over and over, a habitual and discursive cultivation of fear and scarcity, aggression and despair, reporting only what is bad and scary, threatening, with maybe one “human interest” story thrown in at the very end, (“human interest” is a term that has always confounded me–isn’t it all of interest to humans, or shouldn’t it be? and if it’s not, who is it for?!).
The news media aren’t the only ones guilty of this, advertising and politics do the same–convincing us that things have gone horribly wrong, that everything is broken, including us, and the only hope is if we buy or buy into what they are selling. I’m even guilty of it myself, of obsessing over the one bad thing that’s happening, that happened, the one unkind thing a person said or did even in the context of 100 other compassionate acts I witnessed, of allowing myself to repeat the story of unfairness or hopelessness again and again, of sinking into despair because my view has gotten so distorted that I actually start to believe that there is more bad than good in the world, that things are suddenly getting worse or can’t possibly get any better.
I don’t want to get too close to this kind of thinking, that way of being. I won’t deny it when it comes, but I won’t cling to it either, I won’t feed it. So what can I do? I’ve been asking myself that for the past few days, what can I do, what should I do? And as always, the answer is the same: life is beautiful and brutal, tender and terrible–keep your heart open. All I can do is continue to try and ease suffering in the world, including my own. And share with you a few of the things that have helped me to do so the past few days, in the hope that they might help you too.
And a few quotes and lines of poetry which remind me of the transformation that is possible, of the good that is already present.
From Anne-Sophie Reinhardt of aMINDmedia, in her weekly newsletter: Please don’t lose faith in our world and in fellow women and men. There’s good in all of us. Some may have lost all connection with themselves, but even they can dig deep and find a way back to themselves. They may just need a little bit of love, attention and help.
Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are and listen to the wind that is singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, and the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are,
not who you would like to be.
Not the saint you’re striving to become.
But the being right here before you,
inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You’re already more and less than whatever you can know.
Breathe out, look in, let go.
The first step to bringing peace is not to try to eliminate all external hostile forces, which is impossible anyway, but rather, to work with our own mind. If we tame our mind, we will enjoy true peace, as if we have pacified the whole world. ~Tulku Thondup
I was feeling all the heaviness today–the sadness of so many hard things happening among my friends, family, and our global community. And I was struck, once again, that we always have a choice to wither and grow hard in the face of atrocity or to soften into an even kinder, gentler place. Sylvia Boorstein teaches that the question isn’t so much, “am I happy?,” as it is “can I care and be loving in this moment?” In our despair, may we never lose our capacity to care. ~Jessica Patterson
Anne Lamott: “My pastor talks often about our dual citizenship, as
children of God, and Goodness, gorgeous and divine, and we are also people with human biographies and wounds and families, living in a world of unimaginable suffering, brutality, madness.”
I am both animal and angel. Animals need the solid ground beneath them; angels long for flight; humans are caught in the middle. Just remembering that sets me free. I am a grounded angel. No wonder I get so confused…There are hundreds of ways for each of us to counter despair with an act that connects us to our most essential, simple self…There are hundreds of ways to put down our burdens, hundreds of ways to give and receive blessings, hundreds of ways to wake up grateful after a sleepless night. ~Elizabeth Lesser, from her book Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow.
Geneen Roth: “whether we are headed towards Armageddon or sailing into the New Age, our work is the same: to keep our hearts open.”
From Susan Piver: This is why we practice. Right now, for moments like this, this is exactly why we practice. Not only for our own (well-deserved) peace and equanimity, but so that when our world needs us, we can be there without shutting down. When we close our hearts, we disappear. When we open them, not only can we be of tremendous benefit to others, we heal our own wounds.
Every day, every minute someone’s heart is broken, someone is hurt–many someones in fact. Sometimes we know about it, experience it directly or hear about it on the news, and other times that grief, that trauma is invisible to us, but we can be sure it is always there. Some people are so wrapped up, so lost in their own confusion, passion and aggression, that they are hardly capable of helping, and all of us in one way or another are generating suffering, for ourselves and maybe even for others. The events in Connecticut on Friday are a stark reminder of how much we can be hurt, are hurt, of how much suffering exists.
What I wish for all of us, kind and gentle reader, is that we can keep our hearts open, even when it’s hard, even when it hurts, even when the love and joy present are so vast we feel as if we couldn’t possibly hold it all without breaking apart–keep your heart open.