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Embrace the Shadow and the Light

For all their joys, our individual and collective lives are laced with loss and grief. But you don’t need me to tell you that. This territory called “being human” contains shadow as well as light. To be fully human, we must embrace all of it.

That’s the message of “The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass:

The Thing Is
by Ellen Bass

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.

(Excerpted from Mules of Love. Read the full poem here.)

I want to add a few words about the power of the human heart to transform suffering into new life. Like much that I post here, this is “a memo to self.” If it also speaks to you, I’ll be grateful and glad.

As I’ve said before, “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.” That’s one of the drivers behind our senseless wars. And often that’s what leads individuals to do violence to themselves and/or others. Show me a person who makes others suffer and I’ll show you someone who’s “working out” his or her suffering by passing along the pain.

But suffering, held in a supple heart, can break the heart open to compassion instead of breaking it down into cruelty. When we live with broken-open hearts, our suffering leads us to love life more, not less. Then we can become light-bearers and life-givers in a world of too much darkness and death. How to keep our hearts supple is one of the most important questions we can ask.

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