Monthly Archives: September 2013

Poem for September 11th

Sky for September 11thBrian Doyle’s “Leap”:

A couple leaped from the south tower, hand in hand. They reached for each other and their hands met and they jumped.

Jennifer Brickhouse saw them falling, hand in hand.

Many people jumped. Perhaps hundreds. No one knows. They struck the pavement with such force that there was a pink mist in the air.

The mayor reported the mist.

A kindergarten boy who saw people falling in flames told his teacher that the birds were on fire. She ran with him on her shoulders out of the ashes.

Tiffany Keeling saw fireballs falling that she later realized were people. Jennifer Griffin saw people falling and wept as she told the story. Niko Winstral saw people free-falling backwards with their hands out, like they were parachuting. Joe Duncan on his roof on Duane Street looked up and saw people jumping. Henry Weintraub saw people “leaping as they flew out.” John Carson saw six people fall, “falling over themselves, falling, they were somersaulting.” Steve Miller saw people jumping from a thousand feet in the air. Kirk Kjeldsen saw people flailing on the way down, people lining up and jumping, “too many people falling.” Jane Tedder saw people leaping and the sight haunts her at night. Steve Tamas counted fourteen people jumping and then he stopped counting. Stuart DeHann saw one woman’s dress billowing as she fell, and he saw a shirtless man falling end over end, and he too saw the couple leaping hand in hand.

Several pedestrians were killed by people falling from the sky. A fireman was killed by a body falling from the sky.

But he reached for her hand and she reached for his hand and they leaped out the window holding hands.

I try to whisper prayers for the sudden dead and the harrowed families of the dead and the screaming souls of the murderers but I keep coming back to his hand and her hand nestled in each other with such extraordinary ordinary succinct ancient naked stunning perfect simple ferocious love.

Their hands reaching and joining are the most powerful prayer I can imagine, the most eloquent, the most graceful. It is everything that we are capable of against horror and loss and death. It is what makes me believe that we are not craven fools and charlatans to believe in God, to believe that human beings have greatness and holiness within them like seeds that open only under great fires, to believe that some unimaginable essence of who we are persists past the dissolution of what we were, to believe against such evil hourly evidence that love is why we are here.

No one knows who they were: husband and wife, lovers, dear friends, colleagues, strangers thrown together at the window there at the lip of hell. Maybe they didn’t even reach for each other consciously, maybe it was instinctive, a reflex, as they both decided at the same time to take two running steps and jump out the shattered window, but they did reach for each other, and they held on tight, and leaped, and fell endlessly into the smoking canyon, at two hundred miles an hour, falling so far and so fast that they would have blacked out before they hit the pavement near Liberty Street so hard that there was a pink mist in the air.

Jennifer Brickhouse saw them holding hands, and Stuart DeHann saw them holding hands, and I hold onto that.

 

Link to the poem here: Brian Doyle’s “Leap”

Photo credit: Morguefile, by dave

Choosing metamorphosis, part 3

Hand to skyRachel Naomi Remen is a physician, writer, and teacher. I’ve been rereading one of her books, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal, during this time in my life of surgery and recovery. In Kitchen Table Wisdom, Dr. Remen shares what she’s learned from living with an often painful and debilitating chronic illness (Chron’s disease), in her profession as a pediatrician and as a therapist for people with cancer and other serious illness, and as a daughter and granddaughter.

In a post the day before my surgery, I made what my mind thought was a crazy commitment, but the commitment felt strong and peaceful so I forged ahead. Here’s what I wrote:

… I’m committing to acceptance of all my emotions and my physical sensations and to noticing and working with my thoughts as needed. I’m committing to the growth and change which are undoubtedly possible these next few days and weeks. I’m committing to vulnerability and to being kind. I’m committing to believing the universe is loving and supportive, and to perceiving people as wanting to help me, wanting only the best for me, loving me. I’m choosing metamorphosis, trusting that what’s coming is amazing — deeper, truer, and fuller that my present life.

Here’s how Rachel Remen puts the same idea:

“Over the years I have seen the power of taking an unconditional relationship to life. I am surprised to have found a sort of willingness to show up for whatever life may offer and meet with it rather than wishing to edit and change the inevitable. Many of my patients also seem to have found their way to this viewpoint on life.

When people begin to take such an attitude they seem to become intensely alive, intensely present. Their losses and suffering have not caused them to reject life, have not cast them into a place of resentment, victimization, or bitterness. As a friend with HIV/AIDS puts it, “I have let go of my preferences and am living with an intense awareness of the miracle of the moment.” Or in the words of another patient, “When you are walking on thin ice, you might as well dance.”

From such people I have learned a new definition of the word “joy.” I had thought joy to be rather synonymous with happiness, but it seems now to be far less vulnerable than happiness. Joy seems to be a part of an unconditional wish to live, not holding back because life may not meet our preferences and expectations. Joy seems to be a function of the willingness to accept the whole, and to show up to meet with whatever is there. It has a kind of invincibility that attachment to a particular outcome would deny us. Rather than the warrior who fights toward a specific outcome and therefore is haunted by the specter of failure and disappointment, it is the lover drunk with the opportunity to love despite the possibility of loss, the player for whom playing has become more important than winning and losing.

The willingness to win or lose moves us out of an adversarial relationship to life and into a powerful kind of openness. From such a position, we can make a greater commitment to life. Not only pleasant life, or comfortable life, or our idea of life, but all life. Joy seems more closely related to aliveness than happiness.

The strength that I notice developing in many of my patients and in myself after all these years could almost be called a form of curiosity. What one of my colleagues calls fearlessness. At one level, of course, I fear outcome as much as anyone. But more and more I am able to move in and out of that and to experience a place beyond preference for outcome, a place beyond life and death. It is a place of freedom, even anticipation. Decisions made from this perspective are life-affirming and not fear-driven. It is a grace.

To the degree that we can relinquish personal preference, we free ourselves from win/lose thinking and the fear that feeds on it. It is that freedom which helps a team to go to the Super Bowl. An adversarial position may not be the strongest position in life. Freedom may be a stronger position than control. It is certainly a stronger and far wiser position than fear.

There is a fundamental paradox here. The less we are attached to life, the more alive we can become. The less we have preferences about life, the more deeply we can experience and participate in life.” (p. 171-172)

Amen.

Remen, R. N. (1996). Kitchen table wisdom: Stories that heal. New York: Riverhead.

Photo credit: Morguefile, penywise