Courage

Photo: Female cardinal at feeder, with three smaller birds nearby.

I am finally embarking on a project to go through all of my papers, now in boxes in the basement. These range from files that I brought from my office when I retired 3 1/2 years ago, to boxes that I have carried around since college. This week I have been going through a box of writings–poems, essays, and an almost book, dating from about 1986 to 1996. During those years, I lived in Boston, surrounded by lesbian community, making a living in what today might be called the gig economy, while focusing my time and energy on activism, writing, feminist spirituality, and social change.

It was a scary time, financially, just getting by with no safety net, no health insurance, moving from rented apartments to other rented apartments in an increasingly difficult housing market. It was also, for a while, a joyous and exhilarating time, creating chosen family through collective living with other lesbians, wrestling with issues like classism, racism, and sexism, all the while imagining justice, mutuality, and queer beauty.

Reading the many words I wrote brings me back there, and I am impressed by the creativity which filled those pages and filled my life and the lives of those around me. But there was an undertow that sometimes threatened to drown me–a shift when housing got harder to find, when joyful cooperative situations became uneasy roommate situations, when loneliness began to plague me. Still, poetry and Spirit sustained me even then. I found this poem that seems worth sharing as 2021 comes to an end, and 2022 is about to begin. May you find the courage to follow the road where your heart leads you!

1/13/93

If there can be power in a word
the word “courage”
gets me out of bed
surrounds my heart in hard times.

There are many poverties.
Each moon waning, as I just get by
financially, I find my true despair
lurks in the isolation
which has covered the walls of my days
like some asphyxiating new paint
and I feel I can’t breathe
and I feel I don’t belong here.

I remember when I set out on a path
to transform the world.
We sang then, the joy of our
meeting filling our mouths
like lovemaking, our visions
changing us into new beings.
We laughed at how we didn’t fit
our chains anymore, and big as life
we set about to craft a new home.

There are many poverties.
Loneliness is the unforgivable sin.
I have always felt I could survive
the insanity and cruelty of the world
any poverty or hardship or struggle
if only I had companions to share it.

But here I am.
Loss and need my only mothers.

If there can be power in a word
the word courage
gets me out of bed.
Courage rests her cheek against my heart.
Courage squeezes my hands into her pockets.
Courage plants her feet into the prints
of my solitary steps
as if of course this is where the road
must go and I am still
that traveler.

Broken Shards of Light

The Jewish practice called Tikkun Olam has been translated as the mending of the world. This practice draws from the Kabbalistic ideas of Isaac Luria, a sixteenth century Jewish mystic.

He believed that when God created the world, God formed vessels to hold the Divine Light. As the light began to fill the vessels, they were unable to contain divinity and shattered. Sparks of Divine light were trapped in the shards of these vessels; they scattered throughout the cosmos and formed our world. The task of humanity is to reunite the scattered sparks of Light, to repair the broken world, and thus participate in finishing God’s work.

Light in HemlockBy acknowledging our brokenness we take the first step toward returning to wholeness. I observed this so often during my practice as a psychotherapist. As painful things happen in our lives, we learn to block off the memories and feelings that cause our pain. We become divided from ourselves, and divided from others. Perhaps we may shut down the angry feelings we feel, or despise the needy child that is deep within us. The first step in healing is to acknowledge those parts of ourselves that we have broken off.

According to the healing process of psychodrama, one might begin by imagining the broken off parts of the self as separate entities. A woman came in for therapy, anxious and lonely, and we chose an empty chair to represent her loneliness. I invited her to talk to the loneliness. At first she is dismissive. “I don’t need anything from you,” she says to the empty chair. “Just stop bothering me.” But then I asked her to move over and sit in the chair of the loneliness, to imagine herself as the loneliness talking back to her. In that other chair, tears start to fall, and something like a light dawns in her eyes. She has brought the loneliness back together with her own center.

People often come to therapy thinking they are going to get rid of the pain inside themselves. But they find healing only when they have learned to embrace the brokenness with love. It is that embracing of the pain which finally eases their pain, the return to wholeness.