Holding Reality

My water heater went out this week—in the middle of the day on a Sunday when I was home. It couldn’t have picked a better time. I was without hot water for less than 48 hours.

Sometime during that stretch, I listened to a news report on Venezuela, where it must feel as if the street might disintegrate between one step and the next as the country’s systems and infrastructure stop working.

I read a powerful poem, “Will You?” by Carrie Fountain, this week about the edges of our lives when the daily moments are just a little too beautiful or a little too difficult. One stunning line says,

…My children
are so young they cannot imagine a world
like the one they live in.

Boys taken as child soldiers in Somalia cannot imagine the world of making valentines described in the poem.

We cannot choose one of these realities over the other. The suffering, the cruelty, the misery are no more nor less real than the safety, the love, the connection.

We cannot put all of our attention on one side of the coin. To enter the depths of our lives, we must hold within ourselves the suffering of the world and the joy of existence. To love we must be present to what is.

The poem is not about a perfect moment. The mother gets impatient, she relents, she is overcome by the beauty of her children.

In one line she asks her daughter, “How can there be three Henrys in one class?” and the daughter responds “Because there are.”

How can there be such pain in the world? Because there is. How can there be such love and beauty in the world? Because there are. How can we be present to all that at once? Inconsistently, in fits and starts, with as much failure as success. And because we must.

2 thoughts on “Holding Reality

  1. The theme of the poem “Will You?” reminded me of a line in the Wim Wenders film “Wings of Desire” in which a child asks her father about bad people in the world. That in turn reminded me of something my brother said recently about how there are simply too many evil people in the world and that the political pendulum needs to swing in a way that restrains their ability to do harm. And now I am reminded (as I have just read it in Fr Greg Boyle’s book “Barking to the Choir”) that the only way to get fists to open is by living and acting from a place of kinship and love. I suspect that my brothers approach and Fr. Greg’s are polar opposites and yet they each sound compelling and valid within their respective spheres. To fight ferociously while maintaining a sense of kinship and love. The happy warrior ideal I suppose.

    Back to the child’s question. It’s such an innocent as well as incisive lead in. It really asks about how innocence can be lost and forgotten, and become distorted into malevolence. Somewhere along the way, through trauma and indifference, that is how it goes – as in nightmare of child soldiers.

    I often try to put my own daily irritants into perspective by recalling the real suffering that is now occurring in other places. I think that’s an entirely valid reality check.

  2. Wrestling with this every day. Most recently I am trying to drop my consciousness down to my Hara. (two inches below the belly button in the center of the body) where there is balance and being present. Very good poem.

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