Sunday, July 29, 2012

slow down . . . pay attention . . . don't give up

These simple guidelines from a wise teacher stunned me when I first heard them.  They perfectly described what I felt was required to survive in those first months after our son died. There was a sense in which I really wasn’t sure I could live through that, so I knew I needed some very specific and simple steps to follow if I was to make it.    

Words simply do not adequately describe those first days. I was literally brought to my knees, could not stand or walk as I was accustomed to doing.  I honestly didn’t know how to go about my days.  Something had happened to me that was totally unacceptable.  I had no choice but to stare at this complete shattering of my heart – this rearranging of my life  - and let it change me and my view of the world. 

I was broken and unable to be the resilient person I’d always expected myself to be.  Instead of being “the helper”, I needed help and a lot of it . . . I needed patience, encouragement, and guidance.  Instead of being “the teacher”, I was completely lost - in my very skin, in my own family and certainly in the world as I had known it.   

I learned to be careful with my expectations of myself.  I was emotionally exhausted most of the time and so had to deliberately choose my activities and exposure to people.  Too much of either and I could implode.  Mostly I was just trying to breathe.    

I felt the only way through this was to just keep looking and trying to see everything that was changing as clearly as I could.  I had to let my illusions fall away, allow myself to become this person who was different from what I thought I was or wanted to be.  I had to let go of dreams I’d never even questioned – like having both my children around me for the rest of my life.

The hardest was, of course, to let go of Matt. . . . his presence, his smile, his touch,  his plans, his dreams . . . . and allow him to be with me in a new way.   

This is the grounded awareness I still seek. . . . and in my better moments can live into.  Now I know that unfathomable things can happen.  Pain can strike a heart and rip it to shreds.  And it can mend.  Amazingly, a broken heart can feel “joy”, “delight” and “hope” again.  Those realities are different because they are shaded by deep struggle.  In the same sense that we have carved out the space inside to bear our sorrow, we also have created the capacity for deeper joy.          

It is very clear to me how important “now” is. Peaceful contentment comes when I can be fully in it noticing the beauty that is always waiting to surprise me. Taking time to sit quietly each morning and to remember helps me to be careful not to let the pace of the world take my energy or dictate my priorities.  

The willingness to not turn away is also the willingness to be changed by what you encounter.   And that, so my wise teacher has said,  is the very definition of compassion.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I want to be porous

I want to be porous
for life, love, pain and joy to flow through me
blessing each breath.

I want to take the brittle,
inflexible pieces of my life,
people of my life,
and carefully, delicately,
weave them together
until they flow
as one
constant gift.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Poem for J

What she made in her body is broken.
Now she has begun to bear it again.
In the house of her son’s death
his life is shining in the windows,
for she has elected to bear him again.
She did not bear him for death,
and she does not.  She has taken back
into her body the seed, bitter
and joyous, of the life of a man.

In the house of the dead the windows shine
with life.  She mourns, for his life was good.
She is not afraid.  She is like a field
where the corn is planted, and like the rain
that waters the field, and like the young corn.
In her sorrow she renews life, in her grief
she prepares the return of joy.

She did not bear him for death, and she does not.
There was a life that went out of her to live
on its own, divided, and now she has taken it back.
She is alight with the sudden new life of death.
Perhaps it is the brightness of the dead one
being born again.  Perhaps she is planting him,
like corn, in the living and in the earth.
She has taken back into her flesh,
and made light, the dark seed of her pain. 

Wendell Berry, A Country of Marriage

Sunday, July 1, 2012

molokai moments

We stood overlooking a part of the island whose history was filled with suffering. 

Kalaupapa was the part of Molokai dedicated as a place of exile for people who had contracted leprosy.  From 1866 to 1969, victims of this disease were brought here to be separated from the rest of the world that was so afraid of the disease they suffered.  So this land holds countless stories of sadness, loss and pain. 

Yet, at the same time, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  And on this morning as I watched the sun come up over its coastline, the clouds seem to demonstrate for me how darkness can cover the dawn only temporarily . . . and if we’ve seen it before and know it is there, we can more easily wait for it to emerge again.  The entire vista represented what our hearts carry – the sorrow and the joy; the beauty and the agony; the darkness and the light.   Grief grows our capacity to hold all that life delivers.  It carves out the space we need inside to carry our stories and the stories of our loved ones in all their breadth and depth.  If we can hang in there through the pain of loss . . . if we can avoid the urge to distract ourselves from all we feel, we can allow sacred space to be created in us.