Fermentations, Ruminations & Meditations
Tears, Fears and Cheers
I pull back the curtain this morning hoping for snow. The sad and bad news of the last few days has had me heartsick and I wanted to see the world purified with a dousing of cold, white crystals. As if snow could freeze off the world’s spirit sickness the way a doctor freezes off a wart.
Instead of winter white fields of snow, I look down into the dark brown soil of last summer’s garden. There, in the middle of a muddy, grass tangled heap, is an old apple core, tossed by one of the kids onto the ground. I appreciate the childish recognition that earth will reabsorb this residual chunk of organic matter, but need to discuss with them the virtues of a designated compost pile. We cannot just toss our apple cores anywhere, willy nilly; we have rules for this kind of thing. We have rules for personal conduct and for human civilization.
Do not pick your nose in public. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom. Do not litter. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Do not exceed the speed limit. Do not steal. Do not shoot children.
Living through a coastal Pacific Northwest winter we get wet. I appreciate these months of moisture because it’s as if the elements are creating a groove of grief for me to follow. Since I am too busy and confounded to properly and profoundly mourn the Connecticut school shooting, the violence in the Congo and the melting Arctic ice caps, the rain is like the sky doing my crying for me. I know it’s a terrible cliché and a classic case of anthropomorphizing, but it works for me today, as a metaphor. I mean somebody needs to cry, and keep crying, for all of the suffering on this earth. If my own beleaguered tear ducts cannot keep up, then I am grateful the clouds come to my aid.
Let it rain…let it rain.
I heard a famous woman say that bullets are hardened tears, which puts it rather well I think. And this begs the question:
Why do we wound others when we are wounded?
I am certain this topic has been amply explored by spiritual masters, psychologists and other scholars. My own answer to this comes from my humble experience as a small mammal on planet earth: FEAR. Heck, it’s scary out there. Especially when we have been attacked or ignored or abused, or even when things just don’t go our way.
My children are familiar with my “mama tiger,” as is my husband. When I lose my cool and lash out in anger, it is generally because I have a thorn in my paw of one kind or another—my ego is bruised, my immune system is overworked, my hormones are acting up, or my plans are foiled. Then I get mad because, well, damn it, because I realize I am not in control of this tractor after all. Life ploughs along and I don’t get to be driver. It turns out that I am the sod, not the steering wheel. So I can take my tumbled, furrowed soul and try to grow something fruitful; I can remain inert and fail to germinate; or I can rot.
It’s not that I feel totally powerless; compared to most of the women in the world I have abundant privilege, power and choice. I wake up each day with the capacity to organize my own time and more or less manage my own body. I can decide my best to live according to my values, and to principles of good health and social harmony. I can drive on the right side of the road, brush my teeth, file my taxes and even attend mindfulness retreats to tame my wayward mind. But I cannot prevent all illness, cannot rule the wind, cannot stop chaos from careening out into the fields and causing havoc.
What I can do is choose to cry tears instead of bullets.
Sadness is not supported very well in our culture. When we get hurt or feel bummed out, we tell each other, “It’s okay,” or “Let it go,” or “Don’t cry honey.” But these statements often ignore the real source of the problem, and they certainly don’t validate the pain or ease the ache.
So this is my three cheers for tears! I need to feel the grief of the globe in my soul and not rely on the cumulus to do it for me. I need to let sadness soften my heart and not sharpen my claws. I need to cultivate compassion in the raised bed of spirit and then be sure that when I am wounded, I do not wound others. Depending on the magnitude of the sorrow, I can let myself whimper a bit, or shed some tears, or howl in agony. To be sure, there is a time for grief and then there is a time for gratitude. In case of grief, I need to feel it, heal it and then be brave enough to keep my heart open to the world.
Closing the heart gate may keep the grief out but then it won’t let the beauty in.
I live with a farmer who is not heart hardened but who does not whine or whimper much. He is tender and tough, a balance that I think he found somwhere between the fields on his family's farm and the fissures on a rock face in the Sierra. As I reckon with the woe of the world and work to stay grounded in gratitude and sweat as I seek an ethical orientation to my own life, my husband is kindly doing the dishes, hauling haybales, digging ditches, filling tanks, and fermenting cider. At bedtime, he tells “breakdown stories” to our little boys, mostly tales of their Grandpa Larry, and the antics of farm equipment gone awry. He speaks softly of broken pistons, flat tires, failed transmissions, and the malfunctioning self-leveling mercury plate in the combine that made it keel over one season when Uncle Dale was driving. My farmgrown man teaches our boys that when things break down, you quietly curse, kick a tire and then you fix ‘em. You find the tool and do the work and keep going.
When my little boy breaks the handle on a shovel he cries something fierce. Rather than telling him, “It will be alright, don’t cry” and offering him a new one; we need to say, “We see you are sad about your broken shovel— it’s hard when a useful thing breaks.” Don’t deny the grief and don’t try to buy it off with a shinier shovel or a handful of candy. But see if we can feel it and fix it together.
Same goes for the world.There’s big hurt out there, hurt that cannot be buried in snow or washed away by rain. Hurt that I cannot fathom and I cannot fix alone. But I suppose we’ve got to try to feel it and fix it together.