News, Updates, Musings
“Hiding is a way of staying alive… of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light.” -David Whyte
Not all who are broken must keep on breaking. But that comes later. Much later. There is no time limit for when it might happen, a specific day when suddenly you are different than the day before. That is the magic version of change. The realer, more frustrating one is so constant and small, so day by day, hour by hour, that you could not be blamed for missing it. Some of our greatest wounds stem from what we cannot see, the slight but meaningful alterations of who and how we are in the world.
Something goes wrong in every life. But our traumas are not like chalk on a sidewalk, they are durable, resilient. They are both reminders and remainders, stowaways and thieves, a blessing and a curse. How is anything that upends us useful? It is not unreasonable for us to ask this, it’s just naive. Nothing in nature takes place unopposed, lighting strikes a tree and leaves it charred. A body remembers its blows, a mind its warps and deformations. We make due with what is at hand. For some of us there is much less at hand than others. There is no one size fits all for coming through a trauma-tsunami, and if every last one of us are refugees of something, and I hazard that we are, the way that we get there matters less than the fact that, if we’re lucky, we do eventually arrive someplace other than the eye of the storm.
Just across the border of intolerable pain is a small shanty of slightly better light. We manage to take down a few boards over the years. Eventually we decide to rebuild the roof rather than lay out so many buckets along the floor. But don’t knock the prior method, it kept the floors dry. It kept us breathing. The method to such madness is the way we hold together what wants nothing more than to break apart. You see it in total despair, what letting go looks like. Until one morning out on the yard, the light through the trees holds someone’s gaze for just a moment, a gaze which had been held to ground all year long. The nurses logbook won’t register it. You could not be blamed for missing it. But there it is. A life hiding until it can handle the sight of a tree branch again. Identify a body that still takes up room, and deserves to do so.
“When we make a friend of what we previously could not face, what once haunted us now becomes an invisible, parallel ally.” -David Whyte
Beautiful words remind us of what our lives truly are, creative blanks teeming with mercy. That we have the ability to both tear down and rebuild is no accident. We destroy and mend and destroy again. Can you imagine a life where this rhythm was absent? Where nothing was ever broken? That soft place to land, the great songs all carry us there. But it’s only because we arrive there ragged and worn thin that we know how soft it is to rest a while. To feel impossibly whole. Impossibly?
But that comes later. For now you are just hanging on. Fighting for dear life. Dear life, I am fighting for you.
We hide from what we know or what we know hides from us. The latter is how we survive for a season. Several seasons. Dead skin becomes new again but still feels old. We come so close to losing it all, the very little we have.
That very little is a kingdom. Any life that has not yet crossed over into who knows what or where, if anything, is something of a delayed marvel. In depression the color is blue. But out of it is blue itself, the wonderful dynamic of blue.
“Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that we are miraculously part of something, rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape… Being unappreciative might mean we are simply not paying attentin” -David Whyte
When I was newly clean my first sponsor gave me the assignment of a gratitude list. Since everything that came out of my mouth back then was cloaked in negativity he thought I might benefit from admitting what was not so obvious to me at the time, that I had a hell of a lot to be grateful for, all things considered. I was not considering all things. “What do I have to be grateful for?” I asked. “How about the clothes you’re wearing, or the fact that you’re not in jail and have a place to stay tonight, and are on your way to a meeting to carry the message of hope to the still suffering addict?” He wanted 25 things. I thought I had never been given a taller order. I may have only come up with 15 things to be grateful for then. ONLY. Fifteen. That’s a lot. Air=lungs=oxygen= sometimes you count your blessings from scratch.
There are times when such lists would be a perverse solution. When your spouse is dying from the last stages of cancer no one wants to be thankful that they have food in the fridge. There are hours where nothing can or should add up. After one’s world has been upended the universe might as well have imploded. Sound vanishes, you’re in a vacuum and the color is only black, not black itself, just, black. Dark. No light. No sound. No answers. No questions. Just the pain rising into your throat.
Sometimes to accompany another in that space is to witness a life falling to pieces. To acknowledge pieces. People need to know they can be seen even if what they are showing you is ghastly. We’re not all up for such a sight. Sometimes the wounded wound others in a last ditch effort to connect.
“I can’t say that what I provide him in these moments is so much containment as it is company or maybe containment through company. Why do we sometimes devastate others, maybe most particularly those we love the most? I have a strong sense that we often do it because our most broken, most annihilated selves crave companionship, and we really don’t know what else to do.
This collapse into being with another, the deepest states of the other – isn’t this something of the kind of sensitivity that gives our annihilated states a home?” -Michael Eigen
To sit with the ghastly, ghostly chapters of someone else’s life, to bear hearing what they have to tell us. And for them, the agony of saying it, what happened. What is still happening. It is sometimes more witness than wisdom that is needed. Witnessing pieces that might never be whole again. Picking through the rubble, catching light where it may accidentally or purposefully stray in. Just to be there, when it happens.
Some die alone, others live that way. But still “we sit at the table as part of every other person’s world…To sit among friends or strangers, hearing many voices, strange opinions; to intuit inner lives beneath surface lives, to inhabit many worlds at once in this world, to be a someone amongst all other someones…that everything both happens with us and without us, that we are participants and witness all at once.” -David Whyte
Even alone we are not always. And yet we sometimes are. Emotional truths may not hold up in court but they are the most basic stuff of our shattered lives. I feel, therefore I am. Who really knows how change happens? The fact that it does is far more important than how much of it takes place or the degree to which we feel a life has been fully lived. The living is implied in the word.
Is it better to have never been born? I wouldn’t know, and neither would you. We’ve been born. Here we are. It feels awful most of the time. More is lost than is ever found. We want one thing for our lives but end up with something entirely different. Some of us don’t get the parents we need. Or even the basics, enough food, shelter. Nothing can make that okay. Some things hurt so much that all you can do is acknowledge it for what it is, painful. Witness for someone, for yourself.
There are hard facts on the ground.
“Ground is what lies beneath our feet. It is the place where we already stand; a state of recognition, the place or the circumstances to which we belong whether we wish to or not. It is what holds and support us, but also what we do not want to be true…To come to ground is to find a home in circumstances and in the very physical body we inhabit in the midst of those circumstances and above all to face the truth, no matter how difficult that truth may be; to come to ground is to begin the courageous conversation, to step into difficulty and by taking the first step, begin the movement through all difficulties, to find the support and foundation that has been beneath our feet all along: a place to step onto, a place on which to stand and a place from which to step.” -David Whyte
The clothes I am wearing, the roof over my head, the places I have been and the places I am going. Hurting more often than not, I have been born. I cannot say if it would have been better otherwise. I don’t have access to otherwise. All I have is here, and now. The ground beneath my feet, and up above, sometimes, every so often, even, a little light. Not much, but just enough.