Suffering

The other day, I heard a little old lady tell a crowd of sexual assault victims, “You were not put on this earth to suffer.” It reminded me of a line from the book I’ve been reading, Strangers Drowning, about morality.

“Some think that suffering is pointless and wish it could be eliminated; others believe it makes compassion possible and is at the core of the human condition.”

I used to believe the former, used to wish no one had to endure the pain of suffering…I guess I still do, when I see it. But you can’t wish away suffering, it will always be, and if it breeds compassion, it is all worth it.

Jack Gilbert says it best:

A Brief For The Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

13th on Dominicus

(For my poetry class, we had to chose from a list of prompts and make it a real scenario. The prompt I chose was “The air is still all week except on Sunday afternoons when the wind blows.”)

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13th on Dominicus

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We scatter our ashes when we hear

autumn leaves scrape along the cement

because in Eurus the air is still all week except

on Sunday afternoons when the wind blows

through the dusty streets and across the wooden porches

where we hung candy colored wind chimes

like portraits of all the different pills we took.

Chalk dust blue, powder orange, lavender –

always pastels, nothing offensive.

There’s something soothing about pastels,

like the breeze wandering through our wind chimes,

just a reminder that we’re still breathing.

We are a medicated generation,

it’s a wonder we still feel anything at all

when we’re so quick to numb our problems

instead of fixing them. Benzos for anxiety,

opiates for pain, but all they do is make us forget,

we live in a haze, in a fog that won’t lift.

Though for some of us there’s stimulants,

Ritalin, serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Any quick fix, any synthetic happiness will do.

Why work towards personal betterment,

strive for spiritual satisfaction,

when its all right here, between our fingers?

Just swallow, smile, and repeat.

Solidarity with the Sun or a Universal Deceleration

I was walking through a sculpture garden on my way to class

on a cold October morning in Baltimore, worrying

about tomorrow when I looked up and realized it was fall.

The leaves had begun to redden and turn and surely

this had happened overnight because how could I have missed

this metamorphosis. Some trees had amber leaves like the tea

my dad loved from England, others orange as my mom’s hair,

but none clung to their green and I halted. Some things sneak up

on you, yet all around me the flowers were wilting and

the trees were wasting until there was no beauty left at all

and just yesterday was my little brother’s birthday – I thought

he was turning six but actually he became eight years old just like that.

– 

I remember a sunny winter day in Madrid

wandering through El Retiro, where a big man blew bigger

bubbles with two great wands and small children danced

trying to catch them. I smiled in the Sabatini Gardens

at nightfall, touched by the way the moon shone no matter where she was

and even though she knew she had to go so soon. I blinked

into Barcelona and “Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus” seared across

La Sagrada’s spires, which soared so high one could spend a lifetime

staring skyward and still never truly see it’s zenith.

– 

Down below, I wandered through the Fiery Fields under Naples

and Pompeii, in underground caverns that sustained the ancients

with yellow tuff, a volcanic ash from the explosive past

of Vesuvius, that morphed under pressure like diamonds into

life-giving sandstone and gave way to sunken reservoirs.

 –

I resurfaced after crossing the Adriatic, through Albania

and into Thessaloniki, where I rose like the White Tower

and scaled its spirals till spring spilled down to shower the steeples,

slickening them so I slipped and thought for sure I would sink,

but instead I was transported to the twin tower in Istanbul,

and there I saw the flowers sweep across the hills like wildfire.

 –

I tore through Turkey, spanned the –stans and cruised across the Caspian

till Zhengzhou, China, to the Shaolin Monastery in Mount Song

where I summoned my own Shaolin, Staten Island, and Shakti,

the yoga center where I meditated in the summertime, listening

to shrill chirps of the crickets and the mournful howls of the wind,

who rattled the wood-paneled windows, as if to remind me

to stop and smell the incense. I awoke in California, where

my mom asked me never to go because I might like it too much

and never come back, since I always say I can’t stand the seasons,

those bitter New York winters, and maybe I should stay

where it’s sunny all the time and things don’t seem to change.

But then just think of all the colors I would lose; static

blinds us to the beauty of difference. The sun may struggle

to rise, but the moon lingers for just a bit longer,

and truly time wouldn’t seem to be going anywhere

at all if I only stopped to look more often.