Hello and a joyful spring to any and all who still have even a thread of interest in this blog. I’ve been gone for a long, long time, but think of you often. I hope you will forgive the absence.
Is it spring where you are? Maple trees are budding here, crocuses and daffodils are blooming and I saw my first real dogwood yesterday, making a sparse but valiant showing.
If you listen to pop radio, you may be hearing Kelly Clarkson’s, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” and even if you don’t listen to pop radio, you know the expression “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This is a good song to work out to; it is not, on any level, a good belief to live by.
Something that can kill you but doesn’t actually makes you weaker. A broken bone is weaker even after the regrowth; past injuries leave scar tissue and must be treated tenderly so as not to reopen or reaggravate wounds. Catastrophic illness makes you more susceptible to infection. Deep psychological pain, even though it can be and is survivable, does not ever truly leave your psyche. You are not made stronger.
This is good news.
Weakness terrifies all of us, but it is, without question what makes us most human, more tender, more vulnerable. My friend Ann says (I’m paraphrasing), “You’ve joined the club. It’s a weird club.”
My friend Mary tells me, after visiting a dying friend, “There is so much pain in the world. The most we have is leaning on each other.”
Mary’s heart is so open that when I am with her sometimes I feel like I am standing in it. Her tolerance for other people’s pain is a tangible, living thing.
Yesterday was Palm Sunday. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey flanked by illiterate fisherman. He was not stronger than the army of soldiers who greeted him. I’m struck again and again at how the language of the Gospels is filled with words like “passion,” “desire,” and “longing.” When do we lose this connection (if in fact we do lose it?) When do we forget that the ache, the suffering, the longing for respite in the face of tremendous suffering…the blood and body passion for life is everything that brings us closer to others, to God?
This is not original thinking; none of this is. But today I am having lunch with two dear friends, one who has survived colon cancer, and is now celebrating her last round of chemo for pancreatic cancer, and another who is living with the constant sorrow of losing her brother. And we will be laughing, joyful. Whatever pain each of us is carrying will be shared, even for a moment, even if we don’t talk about any of it. We don’t have to. We’re in the club.
Carrie Newcomer sings about living a “permeable life.” Go and listen to her remind you that “there is room at the table for everyone.” Or perhaps read some Parker Palmer, especially the poignant and lovely, “Let Your Life Speak.”
Or maybe, best of all, go and find yourself one of those people in your life who’s part of your tribe. One of the weirdos who makes you feel less alone on the planet. Preferably someone who really makes you laugh. I’ve been making myself walk as often as I can lately (venturing outdoors, especially to do physical activity is an effort at the best of times, but it is a sacrilege to admit that because it is spring and one is supposed to love venturing outdoors.) But because we here in the Midwest haven’t seen the sun for about 6 months, and because I know I will feel hugely better if I walk, I do it.
And many people are coming out of their homes, blinking at the sunlight as if released from cave dwellings. I enjoy seeing this. As I was walking last week, an elderly woman on an enormous elderly person’s bike with huge tires rode past me, very slowly. She was smiling. She gave me a little first pump as she drifted by. “Good weather!” she shouted, in her elderly lady voice.
It made me happy that our paths crossed, so to speak, at that moment. But earlier in the day, something made me laugh, really hard. I’d recently been visiting my parents in Naples, FL, and they took my 8-year old son and me to the Everglades. I hate the Everglades. I hate strong sun and humidity. I hate tourists. I hate snakes, especially 20-foot pythons, and no, I do not wish to feel the python skin on display during the python naturalist talk. I hate alligators and alligators are everywhere in the Everglades, as bold and ugly as can be. People talk to them like they are cute little pets. They are not.
As I was recounting being in the Everglades to an acquaintance (by recounting I mean to say telling him that he should never, ever go to the Everglades because it is ugly and dangerous), he said, “Well, to me the whole point of becoming educated was so that I wouldn’t have to go outside.”
In that moment, I had met a member of my tribe. I laughed all day. It was breath. It was life. It was spring.
With much love and gratitude,
To a Snake (by Jeffrey Harrison)
I knew you were not poisonous
when I saw you in the side garden;
even your name—milk snake—
sounds harmless, and yet your pattern
of copper splotches outlined in black
frightened me, and the way you were
curled in loops; and it offended me
that you were so close to the house
and clearly living underneath it
if not inside, in the cellar, where I
have found your torn shed skins.
You must have been frightened too
when I caught you in the webbing
of the lacrosse stick and flung you
into the woods, where you landed
dangling from a vine-covered branch,
shamelessly twisted. Now I
am the one who is ashamed, unable
to untangle my feelings,
braided into my DNA or buried
deep in the part of my brain
that is most like yours.
“To a Snake” by Jeffrey Harrison, from Into Daylight. © Tupelo Press, 2014