A year later, I get a call asking me whether my poem can be used to facilitate an event to commemorate the anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. The poem will be used, I’m told, to help open conversation, to help people access the wide range of their emotions.
I say, yes, of course; I’m delighted if you use the poem. And when I follow the link to the group, Still Harbor, putting on the event, I want to learn more about them. I make a meeting to visit them.
My poem, that has been about not being able to make connection, is making connection—between Greece and Cambridge, Cambridge and Haiti. And now myself and this group Still Harbor, which was founded by people who worked with Paul Farmer at Partners in Health. They saw a need to create an organization that could help people find purpose and stamina in their lives through social justice work, and they saw spirituality—broadly defined—as the basis for doing this kind of service work.
I’m immediately interested and feel that the work of Still Harbor gives language and form to some of the things I have been searching for, to the very questions I was asking in my poem.
How do we find the moral, spiritual, personal stamina to face the injustices and struggles of the world? How do we place the worst and the best of humanity side by side?
This is not only what the poem I wrote in Greece was about but, in some sense, what most of my work is about. What is the “all”?
How can we be capacious and strong enough to embrace the whole picture of our complicated world, the beauty and the suffering? So often people can see primarily one or the other and are scared to embrace the full picture.
But I have felt that this search for fullness is, in some sense, my calling.
In Greece, pregnant with Simone, with my happy, healthy four year old little boy Gabriel, I saw that quest as largely an external one: how could I make sense of the beauty and suffering out there in the larger world, in history, in contemporary events? What was this external world that my children were entering?
But over the past years, this quest has gotten more personal, more scary. Because the beauty and suffering that I am responding to is not just out there, but in here, in my own life, in my own heart, in my own body.
As I have followed this question of being big enough to look at suffering, without losing the beauty and joy, I have moved into more and more uncomfortable spaces. In the times I have wanted to turn away, I have looked a bit closer, stayed a bit longer. A good therapist, a mindfulness practice, and yoga have all help me stay. My poetry and other writing have also helped me stay: they have helped illuminate for me my own mind, my own concerns, my own emotions. They have been a kind of mirror.
I have been writing about sexual violence—and then one day, suddenly, I’m looking straight at it: at a violent sexual assault in my own early childhood. The violence is not just out there, but in here, in my own life.
My poetry had known before me what it is I’m holding. It has helped me to read my own life. And it’s not just in the past, but in the present, in my very cells. It is what I know.