If Only We Would Allow It
Part 1 of "The Parting Glass Series" - attentiveness, grief, joy, and gratitude and all are holding hands
What is there left to confront but the great simplicities? I never tire of bird-song and sky and weather. […] I dream of an art so transparent that you can look through and see the world.
- Stanley Kunitz
I'm not there yet, but I want to be able to pass through dimensions with ease. This type of transparency is where I'm headed. I want to take allegorical pictures without photoshopping my name on it. I don't want anyone to think about who's taking the picture.
When you spend enough time outside, in beautiful places, you wake up one day, and you see wonder - for the first time all over again. I want that kind of transparency without "me" in the way. How do I write without metaphors? Without being figurative half of the time? I want to be able to write identically to telling a story to someone I love, where they're listening attentively‚ the way we listen when everything is on the line. The way you hit pause on a bridge to a song that gave you chills and rewind it again and again. When time seems to stop, slow down, or not matter at all.
If you've ever had the privilege of being with someone while they are dying, you know how consuming, how thick time can be, and how last minutes stretch out for days. I remember in 2017 holding this frail 23-year-old's hand in a parking lot, before I started carrying Narcan, and how I felt like I had been holding her hand my whole life. She had stopped breathing twice, and we were both covered in her vomit. I had brought her back both times with CPR - and nothing was more important to me, to her girlfriend who was howling beside me, that her heart continued to beat while the sounds of sirens wailed in the distance.
We often lack that clarity - on what truly matters - that in the vastness of space and the immensity of time, that we somehow have been graced by this brief moment with each other. What an absolute wonder that I get to share a second of this life with you, my beloveds, friends of my soul. The fact that I've held hands that are now 3,000 miles away from my own is a testament to magic. Just because we understand how our lungs metabolize oxygen or how airplanes fly doesn't make either less of a miracle. Sometimes I marvel at my own terrible hubris that constantly glances over the witchcraft (modern medicine) which keeps me alive. Most of you know that I required surgery 4-6x a year from 2015-2018 just to be able to eat. And I don't have any answers for why I'm still here or why I've been endowed with so much grace while Melissa and others were denied it. I don't know how to live with that weight, except to both lug and trust it. I don't think I have much of a choice; if I am to remain faithful to who I've been called to be.
It takes so much courage to live, love, grieve, and tremble, doesn't it? Maybe it's always been difficult, but in this age and this culture; in this god-awful-fucking year especially - any authentic attempt is interrupted by another unprecedented wildfire, another indefinite threat to democracy, another murder of an unarmed black person by police, another ice chunk the size of Atlanta falling off a glacier. Even if we practice the healthiest digital habits, we're still bombarded with the deteriorating state of the world the second we sit down at our desks and open our browsers. There are almost countless crises that demand our immediate attention and few pragmatic solutions. Every week there is another reckoning. And this only echoes in our communities, as they become more distant, lonely, and false, others more [systemically] shattered, exploited, and dangerous - as hearts and hopes get broken earlier and earlier.
It's hard to know where or even how to begin. Even at 35, I still get caught up in the juggling act of consuming and retweeting horrible news, thinking that's some action in-itself when it's not, and never has been. Actual attention requires focus and direction. It's far more pertinent for me, to only open Twitter once a week and direct the rest of my attention to calling my reps, holding them accountable, and making direct impacts to my community. I refuse to be another agent of chaos. The scales of justice are already tipped enough without me contributing to further despair and panic. I often remind myself that throughout history, people have always stood in the face of tyranny. And many of them paid the ultimate cost - not just with their lives, but with the lives of their families. I pray it never comes to that, but if it does - I also pray for that same courage - to remain, to never betray what is ours: this day and the light that lets us see it whole.
It wasn't too long ago when the Surgeon General said the most pressing medical problem in American culture was the opiate epidemic. Which, for me, was the embodiment of giving up on the hope and possibility of belonging: that fierce, real, clear energy of genuine love, intentional defenselessness, that "daily love" of gently bathing your partner because they scalded their hands accidentally, or waking up in the middle of the night to calm them from their night terrors, instinctively moving your body to protect someone from harm, or moving someone's car that works night shifts on street cleaning day so they can sleep. That kind of love and connection is what keeps me alive. To act without disdain or contempt, I believe, will always be an act of incredible courage. I'm interested in that long transformative journey from the head to the heart.
I think attentiveness, grief, joy, and gratitude are all holding hands. Some consider paying attention a spiritual practice, and I feel that's absolutely true, depending on what we're paying attention to. If we're actively paying attention and experiencing the depths of real grief, we can't help but feel genuine joy and gratitude. I don't mean to make that sound trite or too sweet and naive. Often, we're paying attention to something that's incredibly devastating, whether it's the death of a loved one, the perils of our Earth, or the stunning levels of greed, contempt, and cruelty that we see; but if we are willing [and I mean, getting down on our fucking knees willing] - all of that despair and praise can rise together like wings that beat together.
It's also essential not to glam up gratitude - I'm not asking anyone to be thankful for scraps - we have to stay aware of the other wing. There's this note from Camus that I love which goes: "the misery and greatness of this world: it offers no truth but only objects for love." And there it is! What else is there for us to do? When I'm writing a poem, that's what I'm doing, and I'm trying to draw on a love that's beyond my being, something that's bigger than my soul and body. That brutal, brutal, and yet - transformative love.
The older I get, the more urgency I feel - to pay direct and focused attention, to be present, authentic, and accountable in my connections with my beloveds, and that's what I'm trying to do in my life, in my writing—both to pay attention so that I can write the poem, but also to embrace the beauty while addressing the suffering that's all around me; so I don't miss out on the miracle of being alive.
I am interested in the hope on this side of the grave — for me, that is the most pertinent kind. And in a tidal wave of transformative justice that could rise up - if only we would allow it.