“In this world where everything will not turn out okay, where the anything that is possible is not in our hands, the real deal is to, nonetheless, look deep into who we really are, and then from that place, reach out a hand, to act, to live a life of care.” ~ James Ford
Wow. I read those words and flinched. Because I have known since I was a child that love is NOT enough. I have known love to wound grievously. To hurl words like sharp stones. And even at its better moments, love does not save from tragedy.
I’m sure that the victims of the Navy Yard mass shooting were loved. But my love does not armour my beloved, as I have found in my life. Not my sons, not my husband, not my parents (and I count my in-laws). Love will not protect against life’s darkest turns.
But as James Ford notes, what love will and can do is still amazing: it can comfort. It can help heal. It can listen and be there. In other words? We can’t trust to love. But we can offer it up, always, when things go wrong. And that’s hard enough.
Because sometimes love requires us to be there for the giver of pain. To offer that lost traveler a hand. I can’t think of anything more difficult than being open to the pain some people give me, via my loved ones. But I’m pretty sure the helping hand isn’t confined to just the people I love. Sigh…
Remember the old Beatles song? The one that begins When I find myself in times of trouble…? It’s Let It Be, from the white album. And while Mother Mary isn’t my default for times of sorrow and trouble, poetry is. As is getting outside.
Something there is about sitting in the green light of summer, the yellow light of fall, that heals me. I can watch birds at the feeders on the deck for hours, happy to compare the flight of tiny hummers to large pigeons. Soothed by the whirrrring of wings and the calling songs.
Here’s a poem that reminds me there will always be ‘outside,’ replete with the things that repair hearts. Like frogs, this one sitting happily on my flowerpot outside, 10 feet up from the ground… Life is magic, isn’t it?
From a Country Overlooked
by Tom Hennen
There are no creatures you cannot love.
A frog calling at God
From the moon-filled ditch
As you stand on the country road in the June night.
The sound is enough to make the stars weep
In the morning the landscape green
Is lifted off the ground by the scent of grass.
The day is carried across its hours
Without any effort by the shining insects
That are living their secret lives.
The space between the prairie horizons
Makes us ache with its beauty.
Cottonwood leaves click in an ancient tongue
To the farthest cold dark in the universe.
The cottonwood also talks to you
Of breeze and speckled sunlight.
You are at home in these
great empty places
along with red-wing blackbirds and sloughs.
You are comfortable in this spot
so full of grace and being
that it sparkles like jewels
spilled on water.
Buddhism assures me there will be suffering in life. That pain will come (and go). That change will as often be for the worse as for the better. But as a generally optimistic person, I usually ignore this. (I know — what kind of Buddhist am I?? )
And so, when I am confronted by truly mean people — people who will lash out in their own anger and say mean, hateful things — I’m flummoxed. And then I too become angry.
Sigh. BIG sigh. Because this really helps no one, and only makes my nights into dark sleepless hours of stomach-churning and head-spinning.
Because I am, at heart, an emotional engineer. I want to FIX things. I want to stop the hurt — my own and that of the ones I love. And how very wise the Buddha was when he shook his head (surely he shook his head?) and said so many centuries ago: Suffering I teach, and the way out of suffering. And the way out? Just to get through it. Without letting the feeling dominate you.
Doesn’t that sound simple? But it’s the hardest thing I know. As I try not to let the anger take me over, to just ‘feel it and endure,’ I am almost sick. How can you say you love people if you throw the jagged blades of knife-words at them? What kind of love is that? How can I speak kindly to a person who enrages me? Even if, once, I loved them?
But then… what kind of love alters when it alteration finds….? Shakespeare knew what he was talking about. When I am this angry with someone, it certainly doesn’t feel like love. And it’s hard as hell to just ‘endure’ it…
Sometimes terrible things happen. To people you love. And you can’t fix it. And you lay awake at night, with your head spinning. Thinking in looping tangles. Mazes of why why why? A refrain of this can’t be happening…
There’s the sinking pit-of-the-stomach feeling. The dizziness and the sandy prickling of unshed tears. Over and over, there’s the deep rut of what? why? how?
But there’s also sorrow. And not simple sorrow, if that makes sense. Not only sorrow for my loved one — our loved ones. I’m a Buddhist, and the Buddhist in me feels sorrow for people I still find reprehensible. I can’t help it. And I’m not sure i want to change this belief. But when evil happens to those I love, it’s a gut-wrenching, gut-check of my beliefs.
How do I juggle empathy and anger? Where’s the line between this is wrong, you evil being and the real person behind those actions? Why do people commit evil? How can they live with themselves? And how do I reconcile my own grief and anger with the knowledge that no infant begins in evil…? Because if I can’t heal my own battered heart, I have no hope of helping the rest of my family through this.
I read somewhere that higher order thinking entails the ability to hold disparate beliefs in mind together. Maybe Buddhism is like that. Maybe this tragedy that befell my loved one is more complex than just what happened to her. Perhaps the empathy I feel for others involved is the right thing, even if confusing. Certainly Buddhism teaches that we are all connected.
This connection I did not ask for, to this horror, to this person capable of creating horror. Still, we are connected through my loved one, through my love for her and anger at him. It’s all profoundly confusing. All I want to do in one scenario is commit violent mayhem. While the other side of me is reassuring responsible parties.
Is that Buddhism? I wish someone could reassure me.