I read Jo’s gorgeous post, Everything Under the Gaping-Mouth Moon with a wince of recognition. She writes – beautifully, as ever – about the dissonance she experiences between her own “singalong life” and the horrors that she knows are out there in the world. “While children starve in North Korea, I barter with mine about dessert,” she writes, and I both smile and grimace, knowing the squeaking, nails-on-chalkboard feeling that putting two realities like that next to each other can generate.
Jo goes on to talk about how gratitude can be an antidote to the world’s suffering, about realizing that embracing joy, even in the full knowledge that out there is an ocean of sorrow, is not a bad thing. In fact, it could be a good and generative and healing thing. I love her points and highly recommend her post – Jo’s blog in general, actually.
As her writing often does, Jo’s words made me pensive. I went off on a slightly different direction, though. I can’t stop thinking about the ways in which my piercing awareness of the pain in the world – writ large and writ small – threads itself through my everyday life. I regularly find myself keening – literally, wailing, internally if not externally – over the hurt in the world. One day, driving through Harvard Square, stopped at a red light, Whit pointed to the man with the tattered cardboard sign begging from the stopped cars and asked, “Where’s his mummy?” That made me cry so hard I had to pull over. I can’t quite elucidate yet how devastated I am by homelessness; it’s a combination of guilt at my own comfort and despair about a society that abandons those who need it most. I don’t read the paper anymore – some of that is from sheer laziness, sure, but it’s also because I simply can’t take the litany of news about deaths, despotic rulers, and economies in free fall.
This functions in a variety of ways. Because of my porous nature, I’m easily hurt and saddened by what I witness, in my small world and in the larger one. It also makes me, sometimes, awfully maudlin, even morbid. This past weekend, sitting at a kitchen table at the Lost Island in New Hampshire with two of my very dearest friends, I descended into conversation about how the axe is hanging over our heads and it’s just a question of when. Someone is going to get sick. Someone is going to die. Who will it be? I’ve observed before that I have far more funerals ahead of me than behind me. I’ve also been through enough severe illnesses, of parents and close friends, to know what that does to you. And I ought to be more grateful, every single day, for the pulse of life that beats through me and my healthy friends and family.
And somehow I can’t. I seesaw wildly between gratitude so intense it brings me to my knees, eyes full of tears, and crushing guilt at my own nonchalance about my good fortune. I can’t believe I’m not more thankful, not more aware of the extraordinary good fortune of every single day that I – and, more importantly, so do my best friends and my family – get to be alive and healthy. My existence is an odd combination of twinned grief and gratitude and overwhelming foreboding of bad things to come. I know there is bad news on the horizon – there must be. I also know that I ought to ignore it, and dance in the sunlight while it’s here. And sometimes, truly, I can. But not always, and in those moments I’m completely paralyzed by a simultaneous fear of those clouds and horror that I’m not appreciating the now better.
As one of my favorite, truly favorite bloggers, Kate at sweet/salty, put it: “Life is pain punctuated by joy.” I hate being negative, I fight the creep of cynicism, and daily I wish I had more wonder in my life. Still, I think she might be right. There is so much damn rain in this world. And, as I’ve realized, the more people you love, and the more deeply you feel, the more rain you get. There’s no question about that equation. Still, I’d never do it differently. I wouldn’t trade my life for one with shallower feelings or one protected from the threat that I know clouds every moment. Like my dear, beloved Jo, I sometimes want to pound my fists on the steering wheel, I squeeze my eyes closed to hold back the torrent of tears, and I rail against my own ingratitude. Still, I know: this is life. Radiance and shadow. Turning, turning.