The last post was about stories, and how they can be maps for the human dilemma, a way to come to terms with sorrow, loss, tragedy and impermanence. The bigger picture– the direction that poetry points us toward– gives us a glimpse of a coherence that overrides chaos and death.*
How do you praise the world when you are confronted with the irreconcilable slaughter of fellow human beings– who are in the midst of dance and celebration?
This idea, praise the mutilated world, is not easy. I think it is what Joseph Campbell meant when he said say yes to everything. This is different from agreeing with everything– but dropping resistance to what is here gives us room to fully step in. It is what Gamal meant (crossing the Egyptian desert in a beat up jeep that kept over heating) when he said you must bless everything that happens, so more of the right things will happen.**
I left for Washington DC on the morning of Muhammed Ali's memorial. Our town was filled with thousands of people of all colors from all over the world. There was a city wide feeling of blessing and good will– as Steven said, a Woodstock without the rain. All religions and races embraced, and harmony reigned between police, fans, dignitaries and children.
At the airport I stopped to get my boots shined, and Patsy told me stories of Ali while she polished my shoes. She grew up in Ali's neighborhood. Like so many others, she had stories of Ali– how he played tag with the younger children (who could never catch him) while his mother made them cookies and homemade ice cream on summer days. Ali's path to kindness and non-violence, to acceptance of his illness, was not easy, and took a long time.
This confirmation of the human spirit was followed by the tragedy in Orlando. My class at the National Museum of Women in the Arts was in the context of Iranian and Arab women, many themselves refugees, making sense of their experience through art and stories.
I began the class with this poem by Adam Zagajewski, born in Poland, who experienced being an exile as a very young child. When he implores us to praise the mutilated world, it is not from a fluffy place. It is about how we really don't fully know anyone else's story. It opens the door to having compassion for everyone– the victims and the perpetrators.
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees going nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
(Try to Praise the Mutilated World by Adam Zagajewski)
When something shows up in my world that is painful, my first impulse is often to push it away. The story in my mind that goes along with this impulse is old, familiar and bleak. When I play with the idea of saying yes, something else happens. Have you tried this? I'd love to hear from you.
*Susan Brind Morrow, The Dawning Moon of the Mind
***Susan Brind Morrow, The Names of Things