Turning away from the deepest suffering means turning away from the deepest grace. That’s the heart of this post.
Several friends and I have asked ourselves the same question this past year:
How do I keep an open heart while standing in the depths of pain, of suffering, of hell?
Everybody’s answer is different.
As a poet, my answer has been to surround myself with other poets and writers who’ve done the same. This year especially, as my family and I fell into our own personal mini-hell, I’ve turned to black poets, writers, and voices that stay with extraordinary pain, creating through it, pulling forth stunning creation, and broken, stunning, badass new selves. Work that other broken-hearted, angry, and frightened people can stay with and feel. Or willingly return to, when they’re stronger. Broken, weeping people, like me.
The voices of black poets, especially, have pushed me along this year when I thought the pain of my family would shatter me. They surrounded me when it did shatter me. They celebrated with me when I came out the other side a new creature: stronger, more gentle, fiercer, kinder, beautiful, a voice forged in fire.
Staying with pain, standing in the fire, in your own hell, is horrible. It is horrific. Words fail. There is screaming and yelling and crying and rage and grieving and mourning and exhaustion and not getting out of bed and cowering and hiding and giving up entirely. The only true words that can emerge at this point are: “This is hell. I am in hell.”
I’ve learned to listen to voices that have lived through and spoken those words. And to those who’ve died and had others speak those words on their behalf. They were my saviors this year in many ways.
It takes a long time to get to them. Yet, once spoken, the words “This is hell.” can bring forth a new self. One cracked open to deeper insight, growth, clarity, strength, peace, friendship, and grace. Ridiculously deep grace. Grace that pre-hellfire you couldn’t even imagine.
Suffering is horrible. You have to let it be what it is: horrible. Name it. Face it. Fall apart.
Then, not before, can you become more graceful. When suffering can fully move through you instead of pooling and stagnating within. Suffering can become a tremendous gift when we’re ready. A tremendous gift to a community or a country when we’re ready.
In Ferguson. At the center of this United States in November in 2014. At the center of our collective, unspoken, ignored, stagnating and sinking-us hell.
To my ear, saying that black lives matter is not saying that the lives of law enforcement don’t. It’s the opposite. It’s a reminder to those of us still avoiding our pain to step into the fire, wake up, and remember that all lives matter. All lives. That black children’s lives matter. That watching black children die in the street, and anywhere else, breaks our collective heart again and again and again in this country. That killing hurts everyone. White America is ready to listen now. The repeated, pointless, death of child after child after child in this country has pulled us into our own hell. All of us. This is it. This is what hell feels like.
To my ear, which now contains my heart, people saying black lives matter are saying this:
This is hell. I am in hell. We are in hell. Talk to me. Work with me. Help in whatever way you can before our whole country burns to the ground on the backs of dead children.
Hard to hear. Hard to say.
And not everyone is ready to hear and say these words, even now. But I am.
I’ve been through my own hell this year, and I find that it’s much easier to listen now, to face hell, and to speak. I don’t have to turn away from suffering to find grace. Grace is always here.
I can stand with those in hell.
I can stand with the vulnerable. With those who walk together, unarmed, terrified, with little hope, yet moving anyway, for the sake of their neighbors, children, selves. People throwing their whole being/community/country onto the fire for everyone’s sake, not just their own. Because they know we’ll be better for it.
I can stand with those who have stood in the heart of their own hell, burned, shattered completely, and stepped forth new people, willing and able to speak for those who no longer have a voice.
Wow, do they move with grace.
There are hundreds of links available now to find and follow if you have the courage and space within you to do something in response to what you know is happening in Ferguson right now. My dear journalist friend shared this one specifically for those unaccustomed to stepping into the fire of racism and white supremacy at all, let alone together.
My post is for people who can’t do anything right now. People caught up in their own mini-hells, for example, too exhausted and sad and beaten down and scared to extend care out beyond the smallest of circles yet. I get it. I’ve been there. So recently that my tears aren’t even dry yet.
I ask one small thing, for your own sake. If you cannot bear to act or look at Ferguson right now, please don’t look entirely away. Instead, look for those in the heart of the fire who move with the deepest grace. They are there. Look closer or have someone look for you. Chaos will organize itself around them. Watch and notice that even chaos bows before deep grace.
Watch for those moving with deep grace in the heart of hell. Watch and learn. They will teach you how to keep your heart open within the deepest suffering and pain. How to survive your own hell.
You need that deep grace now more than ever. We all do. Don’t look away.