Letter From My 48th Year (Jan 20)
I woke up this morning an hour earlier than the 8am alarm I had set, seduced, gradually, by the buttery light seeping through the slatted shades. I didn’t, however, get out of bed, instead enjoying the delicious feeling of being warm and cozy and this close to being fast asleep again.
Though I was up till midnight awaiting official word of the federal government “lapse in appropriations” I had thought I might be productive this morning: a walk, a load or two of laundry, the farmer’s market. Instead I made coffee and curled myself back into bed for a long talk with Miss Sarton who had lots to say this morning.
This both made me laugh and feel unkind about my own horror at bad poetry: “Poetry is revolting unless it is good poetry.” (The House By the Sea, June 7, 1975)
While I realize I frighten and even confuse many people when I tell them I’m a poet (No, I can’t perform my poem for you right now. No, I don’t do slams.), I am equally frightened when someone else tells me they are a poet and I can just tell by the way they’ve made said declaration that they write only in rhyme and center their lines in the middle of the page. #poetshadeisnojoke #hiboris
Miss Sarton also said this:
“Because I am thinking so much about the past these days I have come to see that the past is always changing, is never static, never ‘placed’ forever like a book on a shelf. As we grow and change, we understand things and the people who have influenced us in new ways.” (The House By the Sea, June 7, 1975)
We are so often cautioned not to dwell in the past, not to look back, not to wallow regrets. But I firmly believe that “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” (George Santayana and also, according to the Google, Edmund Burke).
Of course, examining one’s personal past is always tricky. You have to do so with some measure of objectivity and compassion for it to be instructive. You have to understand that it may be too soon to look at some events even in the distant past because the emotional trauma was so great, there’s no way to have objectivity yet. You also have to understand when it’s important to revisit the past precisely so you can feel again that emotional trauma, now that you are an adult and can survive those emotions—the only way to get past it—rather than stuff it into the locked cupboard under the sink in which you keep all the poisonous stuff.
If we are to come to a place of compassion toward those that wronged us in the past—which is not the same as excusing their behavior, their actions—we have to examine those events from a place of wisdom,. And we have to come to a place of compassion toward them as it’s the only way to come to a place of compassion for ourselves. Forgiveness is double-edged: we are forgiving the perpetrator, but we are also forgiving ourselves. We have to forgive ourselves for allowing ourselves to be acted upon in such a terrible way. We have to forgive ourselves for all the time and the times we allowed that negative act to drive our behavior long after the inciting incident. We have to forgive ourselves for all the poor choices that were reactions to the initial wrong, and in fact we have to forgive ourselves for reacting not acting.
It is easy to reflect on the past as a way to cast blame. And I have spent ample time trying to connect the dots in this way: my parents did this to me because their parents did this to them and so on and so on. That’s a great narrative exercise, but it’s not really useful work, ultimately. No one wins the blame game; it yields neither compassion nor any useful understanding of how we have been influenced by whatever it is we are poking at. Ah, but what courage it takes to poke the beast and stare it down till you come to a place of compassion? How much more fun and easy to poke the beast and then run, run away.