Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Some days I believe
With all my heart
That telling and living my authentic truth
(My perception of it in that moment)
Is the only choice,
Regardless of the cost.

It feels like
Saving my own life,
As well as the lives of those I love.
I am casting myself out of the boat
That is one person's weight too heavy,
Like Jonah was cast into the sea.

I jump ship
Knowing I could die,
But sure I will if I don't jump,
And certain that regardless of my fate,
I'm at least saving those I love.

And then I wash up on shore.
The whale spits me out.
Death won't hold me.
But it is no Ninevah
When I awake and look around.

It is home.
Or what once was home.
And those I thought I'd saved
Are standing around
Telling me I abandoned them out of selfishness.

I look into their eyes and see
Their visible pain IS their reality.
There are no words I can utter
And no actions I can do
That will change what they experienced.

I can't argue.
They are right:
I wanted to save myself.
And they are wrong:
I would have died to save them.

There's no getting back on the ship
And there's no making them understand.
There's no going back in time
And there's no photos to prove what I did.

I can not ask them to play back a tape
That will tell the story
Of how much I sacrificed.
They have no such tape.
They believe what they experienced:
My jump was away from them.

I can not ask them to mirror to me
A vision of myself they never saw.
Yet I go back to their mirrors
And peer into their eyes,
Looking for the story I experienced,
Hoping to see it reflected there.

Why do I do this to myself?
Is it because I'm afraid to look into my own mirror?
Is it because I've now become afraid
That I will see their story if I look?

And what if they are right?
What if the need to jump
And the threat to their lives if I didn't
Was all in my head?
What if it was something my brain concocted
In a foolish, short-sighted attempt at happiness
Without regard for the feelings of others

But no:
I remember how I felt.
I experienced MY reality of my jump
Being an act of courage and even love.
That WAS my experience.

I must extend to myself the same compassion
I hold for them:
I see how they experienced real pain
And that, in their experience,
That pain was at my hand.

What I thought or felt while they hurt
Matters not.
It can not change the reality of their pain.
It can not erase the agony they felt.
It can not be undone.

It can only matter to them
If they WANT to understand my experience.
It can only matter if they haven't built
A new home out of their own victimhood.
It can only matter if I haven't built
A new home out of my own victimhood.

So I choose to leave behind
My expectations.
I choose to leave behind
My need to be understood.
I choose to leave behind
All my stories about what happened.

I choose to stand in the void
With my compassion,
My desire to understand,
And my desire to be part of their healing
Extended in my hand.

I can't arrange to be loved.
I can't insure my heart is mirrored.
I can't be certain I will be forgiven.
I can't count on being seen.

But I can love.
I can mirror.
I can forgive.
I can see.

So here I am on another ship's edge,
Knowing that loving means jumping
Into uncertain, dangerous waters
Without a guarantee
That someone will ever jump for me.

Here I am peering into icy depths,
Terrified I will drown, freeze, or both.
There is no promise
Of lifeboat, blanket or fireside
If I jump.

I only know one thing:
Such a jump by another
Would alter my life utterly.
That's how I know it is possible that this jump
Will help and heal another.
So in I go.


Dena said...
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Anonymous said...

I'm allergic to the state of Idaho, powdered eggs, and the morbid guilt you express in this poem. For the love of...for the love of whomever and whatever you love, God almighty, let your guilt go.

There's a story I recently heard. Ralph Waldo Emerson's first wife died. Her name was Ellen. She was 19. She had tuberculosis. One of the cures doctors prescribed for TB back then was "jolting:" Going for high-speed carriage rides on deeply rutted roads. Mr. Emerson took Mrs. Emerson on those rides for months and weeks before she died. She coughed up blood all the way.

Months after her death, he went to the cemetery alone and dug up her grave. He opened the coffin. He looked inside, at what was left of the woman he loved. Can you imagine? But he had to. He HAD to do it. He needed to see for himself. To understand death. To make death real.

Now I want to add to the story. Can you see him kneeling there as you look at this scene from a short distance? The clouds are purple and gray. They break and shrink, leaving patches of stonewashed blue the size of marbles. Soon the sky will explode into darkness. He is dressed in black. He is keeping himself upright on a very narrow line between maddening grief and abiding emptiness. He is aware that there will come a time for him to lose his balance. He knows he intends to lurch toward some unknown place so that he falls on the side of his choice. But what he WANTS, in that moment, what he would pick for himself if he only could, is to fall forward. Simply fall, into her coffin. He wants to mix himself with her bones and ashes and tattered red dress. He looks down, into the coffin, but is also aware that he is looking down both the length of his life and into a future stretched before him.

Unconsciously, now, his torso leans forward. He catches himself so that he doesn't fall in. In that same moment his mouth opens, but the thought vanishes. He sees that thought before him like unintelligible handwriting on a wall. But he, himself, cannot speak it. He is drowned in silence. But before his next breath he forms another thought. It comes from a place deeper than silence. Easily he turns it into sentence, and speaks it to her but also to himself: "Ellen, I'm going to live in this silence forever. And I'm not afraid."

He is knelt there, and whereas before he was waiting for the beginning of a raging pain, for the intolerable hurt that he felt was his due, now her face lodges in the path of that pain. He squeezes his eyes in an attempt to make her face disappear. He doesn't WANT it to leave, but he's not sure it's real. It does not leave. It is real. He sees a gleam in her eye.

With her continual appearance comes such an overwhelming feeling of release that a realization snapped for the first time since her death: He no longer has to hate his love of her. Something, then, begins working its way upward, closer and closer, toward the slender roots of a peace he had only hoped for. He closes his eyes to shut in this feeling. He opens them and again looks down into the coffin to find her looking at him. He is aware of being caught up in her look, held there, mercifully, before the judgment seat of her loving eyes.

"I'm in this silence, too," she speaks to him, "and I'm not afraid, either."

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