Sh*t To Help You Show Up February 12, 2021
Or, How To Hold Darkness With Light
Happy Friday, loves. I have been preparing the next Let Your Life Speak Interview to share with you all on Monday and ruminating on a theme that came up in it, which is the desire to be the person you wish you’d had to help you when you were young and struggling. I’ve been thinking, who was that person for me? Who have I tried to become in order to be the one that I needed?
Looking back now, what I desperately wanted was someone to model how to lovingly and honestly hold both darkness and light— acknowledge imperfections and wounding, insist on accountability for mistakes and failings, and also always stubbornly believe in love, hope, possibility, and growth.
I grew up around deeply committed people working hard to make positive changes in the world. They were constantly striving to see the good in people, especially people who no one else seemed to see the good in. But in pursuit of focusing on the Light within people they often willfully ignored the darkness.
Focusing exclusively on positive behaviors that you want to encourage and ignoring negative behaviors can work when you’re talking about teaching toddlers. It doesn’t work so well when you’re talking about adults with years of entrenched addiction, trauma, and violent tendencies. You can’t afford to ignore those realities. They don’t just go away.
In reaction to being repeatedly endangered by the willful ignoring of complex reality and the absence of any constructive attempt to deal with the whole of things, I spent years swinging the pendulum hard in the other direction. I never wanted to talk about what was going right. I only wanted to talk about what was going wrong.
But that didn’t really work either. It simply made me a very earnest killjoy.
What I’m trying to learn now is how to acknowledge the light as part of the whole instead of fearing that if I look away from the dark for even a moment it will run amok. I am trying to learn, as adrienne maree brown writes so beautifully in a recent essay, to say “I’m good when I’m good”:
a lot of the possible good in this time is circumstantial – the physical space you’re in and how many people are there with you, the guidelines and practices of covid-19 safety in your town and community, economic status, how many people you’ve lost and how close they are to your heart, how many crises you’re holding, your own health.
and inside all of the circumstances, there’s the possibility of this being one of the most beautiful, connected, grounded, liberating, fertile, creative, abundant times of your life.
there’s also, and this feels very related to abundance, the possibility that these are your last days. how do you treat precious time?
there’s a possibility that these are the first days of a great era in your life, or the days when you will have the most impact, the days of the hardest work, the biggest release, the most important memories you’ll carry forward.
you don’t have to shout it out everywhere. i think often of my teacher spenta kandawalla asking what it would take to be able to answer the question ‘how are you?’ with ‘i’m good,’ and to mean it.
so, if you’re good, say you’re good. it doesn’t negate reality, it weaves your reality into the fabric of this complex time.
you can also keep your complex answers, of course – i for one am grieving and good. stretched and good. want to go to a beach, and also good. but the main news, the thing i have worked hard enough to claim, the way i can be of use to my beloved community, is to be honest that right now, today, i’m good.
I’ll also offer these two poems, which hold for me the tension and poignancy of loving and living in this complicated world full of darkness and light.
A Brief For The Defense
by Jack Gilbert
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
by Maggie Smith
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
Who have you become in order to be the one you needed?
Sending much love to each and every one of you. Thank you for supporting my work. Please share widely, like (click the heart!), comment, and SUBSCRIBE if you haven’t already. Let’s grow this conversation.