I originally wrote this post one year ago, after the Boston Marathon bombings. This Monday, the Marathon runs again. In the intervening year, there have been, worldwide, more bombings, more acts of terrorism and aggression, more unrest. Sometimes it seems like the shadows are taking over. But the beauty of being human is that we can decide what we want to believe. And then we can believe it. I still choose to believe that a million lights of kindness will cover the darkest acts of atrocity. And I always will.
Grief is linked, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, to the lung and large intestine organs and, like anger, fear, joy/sadness and worry, it plays a fundamental role in our health. Our lungs hold and distribute the oxygen that sustains life, so our inhalation is quite literally the act of taking in life. When we exhale, we are letting go, in the trust that our next inhalation will come. Without this exhalation––this letting go with trust––we can’t take in another breath; we can’t take in more life.
It is the role of grief to facilitate the letting-go process. When we grieve, we are letting go of that which no longer serves us. Grieving is the process of sifting through the loss to discover the essence that we wish to carry with us. And then allowing the rest go, so we are able to take in another breath, to continue living.
This week I am grieving the lives lost and maimed at the Boston Marathon bombings and underneath that, I am grieving the awareness that there are people so separated from the basic heart of humanity, that to maim and kill innocent lives is, to them, an acceptable act. But my grieving has unearthed an essence in the tragedy, to wit: the darkest acts of atrocity are covered by a million lights of kindness. In Boston, people ran toward the bombing scene, seconds after it happened, to help, heedless of their own safety. Social media spontaneously sprang into action to coordinate emergency information.
Everything is revealed by highlights and shadows. We are moving forward as a species defined by our immense kindnesses in the wake of our isolated evils.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.
excerpted from The Ponds by Mary Oliver
Someone told me recently that they enjoy reading what I have to say because I write what everyone thinks, but nobody wants to say or admit. That pleased me because thinking I have a connection with others is something I have struggled with all my life. The theme of the one recurring dream I have had is that I am on the outside looking in. The dream could be about a picnic or a party or a meeting but the feeling it brings up is always the same—I don’t fit in. The others do not reject me though; instead, I hold myself apart by choice, evaluating and assessing and yes, fearful, even as the heart of me longs to belong.
But this person’s observation brought into focus for me the universality of all our longings and to that end it gives me the courage to share something I learned just recently. It was an epiphany of sorts for me, although it may not be for you. It is simple: be kind to yourself.
When I said those words to myself for the first time not long ago, discovering them as an archeologist would discover a treasure sifting through a pile of rubble, they struck me with the same wonder. I saw my actions in lucid perspective—my actions toward myself, that is—and for the most part, those actions have not been kind. They have had a driving, critical and pushy aspect—like a stage mother whose child is never good enough. But with the simple phrase, be kind to yourself, I perceived a whole different way of treating myself, one that is forgiving and gentle and humorous and relaxed.
When I treat myself with kindness, I exist within the rich moments of my day, savoring them, not expecting any return or reward. I almost used the word ‘grateful’ here, but ‘gratitude’ is becoming a vague, sanctimonious term, stacking us against one another in the spiritual materialism department and that’s not a very kind thing to do to ourselves, is it?
So I’ll just say that reminding myself to be kind to myself gives me a long perspective, and like all long perspectives, it reveals choices.