Every generation lives between the world it inherits and its own possibility. Every one of us is asked to make sense of the terrible atrocities humans have perpetrated alongside the most amazing acts of compassion and creativity. How do we live in a world with such extreme histories? This story comes from meeting someone frightened by this question.
She was coming of age. The eyes beneath her eyes were beginning to see. It frightened her to meet what we have done to each other and the earth. Genocide after genocide, which can only be felt in the broken stare of someone now gone who lost everything, in the gathering of bones still fuming with the stories of those they walked around in. Taking in the brutality of life was blocking her access to beauty and wonder. It was at this time that we met. She was being scoured of her innocence. But innocence is only the glare of wonder. It is not wonder itself. Wonder is how beauty still shines in the rain-soaked field after the bodies are buried. She was frightened, not sure if she wanted to be here any longer. I listened till there was no more to say. Just then an ant was carrying a crumb twice its size across the sidewalk. I didn't mention it.
She is right to fear the brutality, but the wonder always outlasts the violence, even if we are brought to an end. There is nothing to do but live and meet it all. After a long while, I said softly, "I no longer ask why, only how." She searched my face to see on what I based my sense of the world. I said, "We push each other to one side or the other, as if dark or light by itself will show us the way."
Just then the ant dropped its crumb and scampered off, but another picked it up and carried on. I looked at my aging hands and confessed, "Somehow, I'm strongest when I'm soft, safest when I let in the paradox of it all, when I embrace what I don't understand." I think she understood. I admitted, "I've stopped trying to turn truth into something else." She finally spoke, "Will I ever get rid of this fear?" I dropped my shoulders, "I don't know. But if fear gathers like a cloud, the majesty of life is always somewhere shining."
A Question to Walk With: How do you make sense of brutality and wonder that exist side by side and in the world?
For more Poetry for the Soul, click here.
For more by Mark Nepo, click here.