10/17/13

Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Anyone who is suffering through a difficult ordeal, like having your newborn in a chronic hospital stay, will tend to hear a lot of platitudes. "Things will be alright in the end." "You'll get through this." "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Platitudes are, in my opinion, socially acceptable ways to opt out of becoming emotionally invested. Society's blanket statements that don't actually have any meaning in them, any more than "Hi, how are ya?" has any real meaning. They are things we say to each other rather than listen. 
No one can be entirely emotionally available all the time, but we can be awake to others. Its like my favorite line in Joe Versus the Volcano, when Patricia says: "My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement."  
You can go your whole day without any meaningful experiences. You can have friendships that never go beyond platitudes. Heck, I've been with a group of students standing in the most incredible ruins in Angkor Wat, and they weren't there. Their minds were at home, thinking about food, sleep, Facebook. They weren't there.
To have meaningful experiences we have to be awake. Paying attention, conscious of ourselves. My favorite poem, A Palm of Life by Longfellow, says what I mean exactly:
"TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
        Life is but an empty dream ! —
    For the soul is dead that slumbers,
        And things are not what they seem."


and later....

"Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
        Be a hero in the strife !

    Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant !
        Let the dead Past bury its dead !
    Act,— act in the living Present !
        Heart within, and God o'erhead !"


We don't have to be okay all the time. I am sad, my baby is going to go through a big, painful ordeal tomorrow for her assessment. This little baby doesn't know anything other than a hospital. She is almost 11 weeks old and has never felt the sun on her skin or heard a dog bark. Our family is not whole. So when I'm asked if I'm doing okay, and I answer honestly, people either laugh, or shrug it off. They're asleep.  It is true that it is better to make a gesture of kindness than to make no gesture at all. I guess what I'm saying is, if you are awake to the world and to yourself, you will feel an awful lot of pain and sadness, as well as joy. But I think it is better to invest ourselves than not to pay attention at all. 

4 comments:

  1. I've been in a place that felt like this, I think it helps to remember that cognizance is not a binary, but a spectrum. People are able to be varying degrees of invested in you, and given that mortality involves a limited appropriation of resources that is inevitable. It is also designed that way by God, so that when you are in the real crux and praxis of your trials, you cannot turn to anyone but Him to really understand where you are coming from.

    And also - postscript - you will not regret any effort you are making to document this entire experience, as much as you want it to just be over with right now, someday the details of this travail will be precious to you.

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  2. Beautifully written. Painfully wise.

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  3. I really liked this. And I am so so glad I know you. I feel like I learn something new every time we talk or I get to read something you've written. This post made me think of a conversation I've had many times with many people. There are people who think I'm crazy for really feeling sadness with people I can't help... for letting their despair get to me. I know we can't let the burdens of the whole world weigh us down to the point that we can no longer act, because it all just hurts too much. I know that. But I feel like in learning about a people far away, across the globe, and FEELING their hunger or holocaust or rape I am literally mourning with those that mourn. Even when all it ever becomes is a feeling. I can't right then go to them and change their situation. But I can feel for them- no matter how much space and time separates us. Today I went and walked around the Angel Garden in the Provo Cemetery where my niece was buried in August. There are so many little babies there. And I feel it appropriate to look at their names and mourn with their families. Put your name on the prayer list today. I love you.

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  4. Sorry, above comment is written by AMY. I guess I'm signed in under my hubby right now!

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