heartfelt humanity

I’ve begun watching the series Alias Grace, based upon the novel by Margaret Atwood.  The lot of peasant women in the middle of the 19th century is a stark theme –the trauma they experienced makes my own feel insignificant.  Young girls watching their mothers die, left motherless in charge of a litter of children and a drunken father, young women taken advantage of  at the hands of the entitled ‘gentlemen’ who are their masters, then butchered (I understand now the slang for ‘doctors’ who performed abortions) because that was the better option than being turned out into the streets, and left to hemorrhage to death,  adolescent girls made to clean it up/make it disappear all the while being told that the one who was butchered to death was a disgrace.

I cannot imagine surviving such a barrage of pain. It makes my own traumas feel small. (and yet was I not also young… not yet 18 — with 3 dead babies having been torn from my weeping womb). No wonder women crack(ed). The series makes me feel such empathy, the terror and subsequent swallowing of grief, the defenses built around the heart in order to survive, the deep and underlying sadness that lay beneath the going through the motions, the cool exterior adapted (in order to dissipate the fire of rage?).

Which makes me feel the need to clarify my thoughts, expressed here, about the importance of feeling pain.  My most recent posts have described my deepening acceptance of feeling pain as a normal thing, a vital thing to feel, as a part of being human.  Please know that this is NOT to say that the traumatic experiences in our lives should in any way be considered normal (or even human(e) ), but that to feel intense pain as a result of such experiences is a normal human response.

To NOT experience such atrocities as painful, to deny the anguish or pretend that the causes of it  are a merely part of being human, is to live severed from my heart. Pretending that the horrific, the traumatic, or the painful experiences of life are acceptable, asserting that ‘all is well’, is to live a life of pretense, behind a mask of numbness. I can accept and/or hold it all only by being willing to see it all with a wide open heart, a heart that might break almost daily at the reality (the beauty and horror) of life.

And that is what I have been noticing in me. Witnessing the dis-ease in the broken relationships at a family function and feeling the distress there- in myself and in others- or watching this series and feeling the pain in my own body, feels like an awakening of my heart to compassion. It is the feeling of it that humanizes it.  The cold veneer that was necessary to keep the fire at bay melts away and the vulnerable woman beneath is revealed as tender.

Now, I don’t know how one walks about with a heart unprotected. That feels overwhelming (and of course, who am I kidding, it is my feeling self that is always the source of my overwhelm… I really have not been un-feeling) though, perhaps, I may be allowed to feel other emotions too—like rage, for one — something other than anguish, please.

 Perhaps I do know the balancing antidote. Is it not what I have been doing for so long, seeking beauty, both in the midst of and in the escape from? Only an open, vulnerable heart also experiences the tenderness of beauty in this world. The bleeding womb is both a source of life and death, and the earth births flowers the same as it cradles the infants buried in her dark embrace.

And now I am feeling too much.

But I can step back and hold this me, open my heart to cradle her pain. That is different, I think, than severing myself from my heart. I think. I think…hmmm. Is that a coping mechanism then, these constructs of the mind, allowing us to think our way into separation from the pain of life? Or is it my mind, thinking far too much about the human condition, that gets me into this place of needing to be held in the first place?


Time to get into my body, then. Let it feel the joys of being human too…. healthy joys, as contrasted with unhealthy escapes into addictions – food, drink, drugs, sex. Let my senses fill my body with the healing medicine of the natural world, or a child’s laughter and embrace, or the embodied companionship of sister/friends.

Beauty. She has accompanied throughout my life, always offering her healing salve. ‘You are bound to beauty’, that is what she whispered to me once, in my ear as I awakened from my sleep. Here she is again, perhaps, whispering her therapy into this awakening, as well.

Now, I must go fill myself up, for I am feeling drained.

An old poem I once wrote (dated 2007, and that makes me wonder what was happening in my mother’s life at this time) surfaces as I search for an image for this post

one drop

One drop overflows

from the breast of god

or is it from her eye?

oh, now I see

it’s flowing from that wound

wait, is that a womb?

One drop

at once

red as blood

white as milk

transparent as a tear

and so i am her wetness

and she is moist with me

the drop so full

it falls

she drops herself into me

i drop myself to her

we catch the drop

upon our eager tongue

as we fill

each other, overflowing

with this

One drop

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