Friday, August 11, 2017

My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world. --- Adrienne Rich

Earlier this week, I was reading one of my favorite poems to my girlfriend. The poem, Phantasia for Elvira Shatayev by Adrienne Rich speaks in the voice of Elvira who perished, along with all the members of a women’s climbing team while attempting Lenin’s Peak in August, 1974.
Adrienne writes with such simple beauty:

If in this sleep I speak
it's with a voice no longer personal
(I want to say with voices)
When the wind tore our breath from us at last
we had no need of words
For months for years each one of us
had felt her own yes growing in her
slowly forming as she stood at windows waited
for trains mended her rucksack combed her hair
What we were to learn was simply what we had
up here as out of all words that yes gathered
its forces fused itself and only just in time
to meet a No of no degrees
the black hole sucking the world in 

As I read these words to my girlfriend, tears streamed down my face. At first I tried to stop and regain my composure but then I thought, what the hell, and just cried.
This isn’t the first time in recent months that I’ve openly wept at beauty. Last month my gf and I were in Northern California, a birthday trip from her to me. We were driving up 101 to Redwood country. Although I’d lived in central California for four years and Southern California for five years, I’d never made it up north and this was my first time seeing the ancient sentinels. We were in a borrowed convertible, the top down, and when we entered the first grove of Redwoods, I felt my heart swell in amazement, their beauty was breath-taking; I wept.
This is a new development in my life, to be so openly moved by beauty—whether in written word, nature, or acts of kindness that I read about in my newsfeed—that my only reaction is to shed tears. I know that part of this is a consequence of becoming more open with my heart as I’ve gotten older. I remember my younger years---holding my feelings close to my chest, trying for a bluff rather than showing my ace of hearts. I remember those days of yearning to be seen for who I am, yet so fearful of revealing myself. The need for approval has peeled back like so many layers of the proverbial onion as I’ve gotten older, becoming more boldly myself, replacing my tough persona with my tender heart. (“You need someone tender,” my gf said the first day we met and were talking about our lives, in a casual getting-to-know-you sort of way; she didn’t know I’d see the tenderness in her and decide the position was filled.)
But I think this latest iteration of being moved to tears has another element to it. The world we’re living in has become increasingly ugly in recent months—or rather, I should say the humans in this world have been covering up the beauty with the smog of bigotry and intolerance towards others and a cruel, dispassionate tossing away of our natural resources; like petty vandals so many are carving their names in ash and poison into the earth, toppling over the mountains with a concerted push, setting a match to our forests ‘til they burn like kindling.
The rhetoric coming out of our nation’s capital is that of stripping away protections from people and our planet in order to generate more wealth and power for a few; in our streets, people drive trucks proudly waving confederate flags or Nazi swastikas while others live in fear of being deported from the only home they know; in my own town, cars are vandalized with the “n” word, swastikas are smeared on a local Jewish synagogue.
So much ugliness in this world.
And so, beauty seen in nature or seen in loving acts of kindness from one human to another, from one human to the planet, or beauty felt in poetry or great literature now moves me ever deeper than before; it causes tears to well up and spill down my face. They are happy tears, of course, but also tears of relief that such beauty still exists if we know where to look for it, and that my heart, so embattled and scarred over these past months, can still dare to let it in , to let it all in, to allow myself to be touched by the wonders of this world.
It reminds me of poet Rainer Maris Rilke’s advice:

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final

And it gives me strength to know that even though much has been lost that I couldn’t save, even in the midst of such ugly destruction of decency and concern for others and our planet, still I will cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world. And I will do it from one moment of beauty to the next.

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