The Whole of It


A couple months ago I was eating an early dinner with a theatre friend of mine, and he started talking about life lessons, and why he was here.  He said that he was on this earth to learn how to deal with his anger.  He’s not a particularly psychotherapeutic guy, so I was surprised.  But then we had this really honest conversation about our lives and the center of our own personal struggles.  His is anger.  Mine, I told him, was to learn to hold all of it, evil and rage, violence and darkness, joy and simple beauty.

What happens when two young men set off bombs at the Marathon is simple.  They upset our world view.  They force us to wonder what life is, what is the nature of the world, what does it mean to be human when people commit acts of mass murder and atrocity.

What does it mean?

The courage and heroism and coming together that immediately followed  helps restore us to balance, to the idea that a normal life is possible. Or at least that goodness reigns, that terror cannot break us.

I am struck today, with the city in lock-down, of how connected I feel.  Connected to the city of New York, and to whoever decided to play Sweet Caroline at a Yankees game.  Connected to the people who have died so suddenly, and so young.  Connected to their families, who must grieve the way I would grieve if I lost my partner, who I love, love, love and have no other words for the depth of my love.  And connected to the bombers, because my fear connects me to them, and because I have lived through violence before, and so cannot see it as random or unusual.

I am a person who practices Buddhism, and generally a person who finds it difficult to latch onto religious stories (though I deeply appreciate their beauty and meaning).  I believe that there is a mystery at the heart of the world, and that human beings are capable of experiencing that mystery, but perhaps not capable of understanding it, or at least not understanding it with our minds.  I take comfort in not knowing, at times, not having to have answers.  I take comfort even in knowing that the story I am telling now may not be fully accurate, even though it is the truth as I have lived it.

My friend struggles to heal his anger.  I struggle simply to hold my own experience, and the amplification of my understanding of the world that is derived from that experience.  And my experience comes from being raised in the kind of alcoholic family in which violence was the norm, not the exception.  Yelling, raging, swearing, physical violence–I grew up with these things.  My parents, locked in a death grip that was as much composed of hatred as anything else, hurt everyone around them.  And I know, I know, supposedly this is a personal revelation, but why?  I understand that many people don’t have this level of experience, but we’re all screwed up, and alcoholism is pandemic in this culture, so while I honor my own experience, I also want to say this as not a huge deal–I want to make a point about violence.  And the point I want to make is that it is a part of us.  It’s a part of being human; it always has been.  It doesn’t go away.  I very much wish it would, but if my job is to learn to hold all of it–the ugliness and the beauty–then it’s reality at all costs for me, and the reality I know is that violence is a part of being human.  It’s a part of all human stories, a part of all times in history.

This brings me an odd sort of peace.  Wishing something wasn’t true doesn’t make it go away–it just makes me less capable of coming to peace with the world as it is.

And the world as it is–with symphonies and theatre, with ocean and poetry, with the look of love on my partner’s face, with the way she’s always touching me in her sleep, with the people who run forward to help, to heal, with the ones who touch us with their grief, with their music, with their faith, with their moments of grace.

Boston is in lock-down and I am holding this, now, one present moment, one truth.  The desire to protect all of us that has caused this lock-down.  The madness somewhere, desperate and angry and young.  I don’t have to forgive, but I do have to know it all, because I have taken that as my own healing task–to simply know and hold.  Reality, truth and mystery.

I truly experience, at times, and right now, that every single person on this planet is connected to me, and me to them, as if we were all sparks from one great light, one great mystery, living out all aspects of human potentiality together.

I would love to create peace for all of us.  I would love to be only peace myself, but I am anger, hurt, beauty, fun, brokenness, wisdom…I am not only peace.  I supposed I try to hold onto knowing all sides of life because that is as close as I can get.  My  peace has grief as well as love at its center.  But then grief is love, isn’t it?  It is the way we honor the loss of what we love, the way we say someone or something mattered in this very temporary life.

Metta for all of us.  And I do mean all.  With my most fervent wish that the violence will end today, and for always, I still say metta for every human soul.  I am holding, and I find that I am angry and horrified, but I am, in this moment, free of hate.  I might not be tomorrow.  But if we are all one, then in this moment, I hold horror and heroism and love, the knowledge that I am not alone, and I wish lovingkindness, because that is all I know to do.

May we all be well.  May we all be happy.  May we all be safe and protected.  May we all be at peace with what is.