There are acts of men and the universe beyond anyone’s personal control and often too devastating to wrap my mind around. Take an infinitesimal sampling from 2012: Trayvon Martin, the Chicago Gangland death toll, Aurora, Colorado, the young activist named Malala --AKA a Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for speaking out for girls who just want an education. Mexican drug wars. Sandy Hook. The list is long. The risks of living, the losses -- incalculable. But truth is, the list is long every year. Fire, drought, hurricane waters rise and recede. The ice cap melts. I sweat as I write this. The ways fear triggers fearful response are many and frightening.
These are weighty communal concerns. I ache for those I know personally who have suffered catastrophic loss in recent months. We didn’t see the world end in 2012, but man, has it ever been a rough ride!
I take a break from the news. The stories catch in my throat. There’s a terrible place where guns and our global and individual instability intersect, where a warming planet continues to tilt our experience of the seasons and the blur between the random and pre-meditated confound to the point of hopelessness. I know and love people on both sides of the NRA debate; on both sides of what our society defines as mentally well. Ill AND well people do good and bad things—make lousy judgment calls and devastating impulse domino moves. We sometimes find redemption and sometimes don’t. Doors close. Doors open. We work with what’s in our available control. We wave little white flags every day.
Personally(and not proudly), I watch You Tube videos to make myself laugh and equally, to invite tears. I distract myself with opinion blogs, Awkward Family Photographs, and occasionally, my own attempts at cleverness. I watch as we hold hands, weep, pick up shovels, say prayers. We make small offerings of compassion to others and notice when the same is extended our way or, in the better world, paid forward.
I need stories to help make sense of what’s senseless, to find meaning somewhere on the front lines and in the daily ordinary. I need to be reminded that survival is simply a matter of going on. Hand holding, shovels and prayers help. I want to see who is paying attention to life lived between pavement cracks and terrifying earthquakes? We continue, year in year out, each with our own version of the human struggle to understand life in our media/tech-drenched stuffed-but -malnourished culture. There is plenty to anesthetize us. We continue to seek a nourishment of connection. We continue to let our connections guide us.
I sat at a table this holiday season with people aged 2 to 82: gracefully aging parents, siblings, siblings-in-law, their children and mine in a cacophony of yawning need, fever, healing scars, half-finished sentences, multiple variations of squabble and acceptance for ourselves and one another, competing lead jokes, and soda-spurting- out -of -noses. Pictures of the ones who went before us were on the walls around us. In the glow of candlelight, I saw our faces lit and wavery with a kind of recognition and new gratitude for who we are now, for who and how we’ve been, and for the unknown emergence in each of us on the threshold of the turning year.
The shadow on my Mother’s pancreas could be nothing. It could be something. We’ve all been very lucky so far. She looks at me with soft eyes and cannot believe the baby she held so tentatively when she was 21 is now 52. I cannot believe my baby is 22. Time is passing. Loving imperfectly but pretty completely can be enough if you can take that in. It’s taken me awhile, but I see it now.
I chose to embrace this gift and I was not alone as I looked around the table. Open to being broken by the certainty that this will pass, I wanted to sob. And so I did, in the middle of a very funny charades game that made hysterical tears possible. This was an odd gift, an antidote to so much trouble in the world. The TV was off. My vulnerability was up. Others in the room laugh-cried with me. Snow fell outside. The world was still dark all around us. We sat together with no guarantees that we’d be together this time next year. There was peace and breathing presence and we all sensed the fragile beauty of the moment. Alive. Together. I did not imagine this. It was real.
Tonight I leave the big conversations to the philosophers. I simply stand on the threshold of another year with the door open. I hope, naively, that love and fear will work out their struggles with one another, and that fear will take a rest for awhile. For a little while, anyway. At a distance from me. Please. At a distance from all of us.
BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse 12/31/12
art by Mike Boyer www.mikeboyerart.com