Human, do not sever your soul from truth’s complexity.
Do not turn away from the murky work of balance and understanding.
Do not hide away from the pain in the world because without it beauty is only
Do not resist your grieving,
do not fight your discontent or confusion,
do not silence your despair.
Only in the depths of agony can your real strength be found.
Not the kind of strength that rages loudly or glistens in the sun
but the kind of strength that whispers to you in the dark of night
when you feel most alone and says,
Our country is broken. And I’m not being negative, or whiny, or naive when I say that. Our country is broken. The Great American Experiment is still in flux, it’s being stretched, tried, and tested. The election has revealed to us how much pain and anger still festers in the hearts of Americans. Many of us feel betrayed. lt’s as though our neighbors looked us right in the eyes and said, “I see you. I acknowledge you. But you don’t matter enough.”
Choosing to despair at this truth indefinitely isn’t productive though. Our country has been broken in the past. When we study our history, that’s evident. But while we thought we were healing, the truth is that, like a broken bone, the break was healing incorrectly. Now the compromised bone is pulling muscles and ligaments out of alignment, and it’s causing stress on other parts of the body. And when a bone heals incorrectly, you can either live with it and suffer through the side effects, or you can break it again and reset it so it can heal properly.
Being broken is incredibly painful. It aches deep in our bodies. But this time, we need to make sure that we take care to set the bone correctly so that when we heal, we are stronger than before.
My grandmother was born a fatherless child and her mother was confined in a sanitarium. She grew up in an orphanage and in the homes of less-than-loving relatives. She was abused. She was unloved by those who should have loved her, unsheltered by those who should have sheltered her. But she was a woman of great spirit, intelligence, and strength, and she ran away from those dark places at fourteen to find new paths in the big world.
Of the many accomplishments of her life, she raised three bright and curious daughters. But my grandmother was perhaps too distracted with her own overpowering instincts of survival to give much time to nurturing a deeply loving relationship with her own children. And when you’ve never known a mother’s love, how do you try to express the mother’s love in your heart to your own sweet daughters?
My grandmother died in the slow thaw of early spring. As her daughters gathered around her deathbed, they nurtured her with a motherly love that had been able to grow in their own hearts because of the decisions she had made long ago. And while it may have taken all of my grandmother’s energy and resolve to end the cycle of abuse in her own life, the echoes of that choice will be felt for generations. Because her daughters knew a mother’s love even if they didn’t always feel it. And because of her, I know and deeply feel my own mother’s love.
In death, I feel her spirit more clearly than I ever did in life, free from the hazy static of those lurking demons that she fought so hard to silence. In death, the love she felt in her heart courses freely without the pain of living to impede its way.
It took just one conversation for me. One unassuming but deeply felt exchange between two souls. The first time I really fell in love, that’s all it took. One amazing conversation and a hug goodbye.
And I walked through the back alleys toward home, past dumpsters of trash, unmarked doors, and murky rain puddles, but I stopped in my tracks and looked up at those blazing stars above me. I shimmered at them, and they shimmered back.
“So that’s what it feels like,” I whispered to the stars in amazement and continued on my way.
“People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance. I’m sure the people in group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them with fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those fourteen lights, they’re looking at a miracle. And deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope. See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”
This is a quote said by Graham Hess (played by Mel Gibson) in a scene from M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. This is one of my favorite movies, not only because it references so much of Hitchcock’s style of filmmaking, but also because it focuses on a question that has been pestering me for most of my adolescent and adult life.
As a child, I would unquestionably put myself in group one. I seemed more in touch with the magic of possibility. I loved the mystery of things like that. I felt, deep in my bones, the thrill of believing that things always happened for a reason. It just made sense to me. But as I got older, I focused more on developing my logical brain, focused more on reason, and tried to navigate the tempestuous waters of adolescence. I still maintained some of my whimsy, but I was observant enough to know when to rein that in and when to let it loose. I adjusted.
In college I developed my intellect even further, but not so much my faith. By the time I graduated college I was solidly in group number two, battered down a bit more by life’s disappointments, lowering my expectations for what life had to offer me as a way to protect myself. And I really had to be put through the ringer before I could start to see that existing in group two really just kept running me into a dead end.
Things are the way things are, no matter how I choose to look at them. So it’s come down to the fact that being the kind of person in group one is just a more freeing, more exciting, more fulfilling way of living life. The logical side of my brain is still skeptical, still afraid of what it can’t rationalize. But I’m learning that I don’t always need to understand, I just need to trust.
Why does it never feel like quite enough? Enough money, enough connection, enough time, enough energy?
If we would only trust, we would see that it’s always exactly enough, perfectly enough, more than enough. Perhaps our feelings of “lacking” are always directly proportionate to that which we’re not fully feeling grateful for.
When you do try to practice gratitude though, it’s more than just acknowledging what you have and thinking, “Yeah, I have this, and it’s great, but…” You’ve got to let that gratitude infiltrate every cell in your body. Really let it in. Yes, I know that everyone tells you to feel more gratitude. You’re probably sick of it. But don’t confuse this with the idea that you have to stop desiring more. If we were perfectly content with the flawed and messy status quo, we’d never create, we’d never fight against injustice, and we’d never try new things.
Learn how to let deep gratitude and deep desire exist within you simultaneously. They’re not mutually exclusive. But feeling deep desire for something is different than feeling an anxious need to possess something. That feeling is born out of doubt, fear, and anxiety whereas deep desire is born out of a pure place in your heart. Don’t feel guilty about your desires. Instead of saying, “I have this, but I’d like more of this,” try saying, “I have this, and I’d like more of this.” “But” negates. “And” allows.
Take action when needed to get to where you want to be, but then trust that it’s enough, that it’s always enough. Hold both the gratitude for what is and the desire for what could be in a deep and holy place within you. They’re not at war; they’re building together.