There are three strands of one story trying to weave themselves together in my head today, and if I were a better or less tired writer, I would not have to tell you that upfront—it would be clear from the writing itself. And since I’ve started off with that unsubtle disclaimer, I’ll follow it by just telling you what the three strands are, even though that feels like handing you the rope and telling you to go braid it yourself, instead of weaving a fine and smooth story, which is what responsible writers are supposed to do.
Here are the three things: 1) Palm Sunday; 2) a poem called “The Healing Time;” and 3) arguing. Palm Sunday is the sixth and last Sunday of Lent, and is the day on which Christians celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem the week before his death and resurrection. Palm Sunday, also referred to as “Passion Sunday,” marks the beginning of Holy Week, which concludes on Easter Sunday.
The poem “The Healing Time,” by the contemporary poet Pesha Gertler, is coming right up, and by “arguing,” I am referring to the repetitive, intractable, patterned ways of interacting with someone you love. You know what I mean.
Here’s the poem:
The Healing Time
Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin, my bones,
those coded messages
that send me down
the wrong street
again and again
where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say holy
There is so much compassion in this poem, it’s almost like watching a beating heart. So much love. For a long while, I’ve read this poem as a powerful description of self-compassion, but this week I started wondering if it were possible to treat the “I” of the poem as a “We,” and to understand the lines: “All the places/Where I said no/To my life” as “all the places where we said/are saying/keep saying/always say ‘No’ to each other.”
One of my favorite dysfunctional coping mechanisms for conflict in my core relationship is building escape routes in my head. These start with assumptions like: “I’m not really married to this person,” “I don’t need to stay married to this person,” “I’ll pretend I’m not married to this person, this family, this life,” and soon become elaborate, glimmery constructs, shining on a distant hill, calling out—the grass is not only greener over here, honey, but the air is purer, the food better, your bank account fatter, and the sex FANTASTIC.
A former acquaintance once told me that she decided to deal with her unsatisfying marriage by pretending, for a whole year, that her husband “didn’t exist.” At the end of the year, she was still miserable, and he was mystified by how much their relationship had improved.
When I think about all of the raw, scarred, and just plain bitter places in my relationship, the likes of which exist in any long-term, meaningful relationship, I both know and don’t know why they don’t stop mattering. They feel like mistakes that keep making themselves over and over. What this beautiful, loving poem suggests, though, is that maybe it’s possible to stop feeling these places, these wounds, as mistakes, as problems to “be resolved,” as active sources of hurt and anger.
Instead of letting them trigger thoughts like, “You are the least enjoyable person in this world for me to be married to, the source of all of my unhappiness, and I knew it could be like this 18 years ago when we were walking down South Street eating French fries and you didn’t get that joke I made, but I didn’t listen to myself, and now we are in this miserable pit together for the rest of our lives and it will NEVER CHANGE,” what if we did something else?
What if we just saw old wounds, bitter disappointments, petty resentments, places of holding back, being unkind, and fears for whatever they are, then lifted them close to our hearts, and said, “Holy, holy, holy?” Would the self-compassion and forgiveness that infuse this poem become sources of new life, new love for each other? For the “We” that is more than just two people in a relationship, but is an entity in its own right? I think maybe they might.
Next Sunday is Easter, and all the marshmallow Peeps and the jelly beans and the chocolate bunnies are in all the Walgreens already. But you can’t get to Easter without going through the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. And I don’t mean this in a creepy Mel Gibson way; I mean it in a metaphor-for-life way. Nobody escapes the winter, or the wounds, and nobody is excluded from the spring, from the healing time. Nobody.
This week I’m going to be thinking about what Easter offers, not just for us as individuals, but for all of us, as couples, as friends, as families. How this week is all about being on our way to “Yes.” I hope you’ll be here too.