I just started this latest book by Nepo and I'm finding it full of hard won wisdom. Many of Nepo’s meditations and poems arise out of his own experienI just started this latest book by Nepo and I'm finding it full of hard won wisdom. Many of Nepo’s meditations and poems arise out of his own experience with suffering during a time of battling cancer. In the midst of pain, suffering, and brokenness we can hear a song we might have otherwise missed.
Wendell Berry has a Sabbath poem that puts it this way, “I go among trees and sit still. All my stirring becomes quiet around me like circles on water. My tasks lie in their places where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes and lives a while in my sight. What it fears in me leaves me, and the fear of me leaves it. It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes. I live for a while in its sight. What I fear in it leaves it, and the fear of it leaves me. It sings, and I hear its song.
After days of labor, mute in my consternations, I hear my song at last, and I sing it. As we sing, the day turns, the trees move.
(Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, p. 5)
Pain, loss, and suffering are often accompanied by fear. But both Nepo and Berry suggest that when given time to absorb, think on, and meditate upon what we have been through, are going through, or are faced with, and doing so with patience and expectancy, that we can position our hearts to hear wonderful songs as well as sing its deepest, most beautiful music, all of which might have otherwise gone unspoken, unnoticed, and unheard. Nepo’s poem “Living with the Wound” strikes this chord for me:
Living with the Wound
There is a need to be specific if we are to survive, which requires being honest, the way seeing requires the eyes to stay open.
It means I can tell you when you hurt me and still count on your love.
It means being honest with myself, knowing the ugly things are not always someone else’s.
I’ve been thinking how practical people cut the cord to those who’ve broken hope, the way breeders shoot horses with broken legs, as if there’s nothing to be done.
Now I know they do this for themselves, not wanting to care for a horse that cannot run, not wanting to sit with a friend who can’t find tomorrow, not wanting to be saddled with anything that will slow them down.
I used to think it bad timing. When I was up, you were down. When you were ready I was scared. But since we’ve never given up on each other, it’s clear that drinking wonder when we’re sad is how we shed the things we love about pain.
I have the right to joy even when lonely, even when in pain, and you never need to cover your wounds when entering my house.
If your voice breaks, I’ll be a cup. If your heart sweats, I’ll be a pillow on which you’ll chance to dream that weeping is singing through an instrument that’s hard to reach, though it lands us like lightning in the grasp of each other where giving is a mirror of all we cannot teach.
(Mark Nepo, Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness, Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, 2015, pp. 89-90)
Nepo offers his understanding of where fear gets its power, intensity, and stridency: "In time, I was broken of my illusion that fear could be conquered. Instead, I began to watch the winter trees as they let the wind through, always through. Since then, I've learned that fear gets its power from not looking, that it's intensified by isolation, that it's always more strident when we are self-centered. Now, when I am full of fear, which can't be avoided, I try, though I don't always succeed, to break its stridency by breaking my egocentrism. I try to quiet its intensity by admitting my fear to loved ones, and I try to know that though I can be fearful, I am more than my fear." (p. 6) ...more