When we remember we are all mad,
the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
self-forgiveness is a topic of generosity, of inner authenticity, of humor in all that we drop and break…..shining out like stars in the blackest night…….can we be that small, holding that much light? can we be that vulnerable?
There is no Reset button to life. There is no way to erase the past. There are real-life reasons (financial, familial and familiar) why most of us cannot just fold up our tent, hop on a train, and start a new life in a different town. And even if you could, would that really be escaping from the past?
You tote your past with you everywhere you go. It is the invisible baggage that no porter will ever carry for you; only you get to push and pull and tug and lug it from place to place.
Whitman, one of America’s first great poets (and a personal favorite), famously claimed that he was large, that he contained multitudes. Beautiful. Lyrical. It is a fundamentally democratic poetic statement, abundant and amenable to differences. I loved it as a college student. I love it as a theory.
The darker side that I overlooked in my first enthusiastic embrace?
What if you cannot stomach some of the past (personal, cultural, national) that you contain? How do you make sense of not just the good that you have done but also the errors and sins that you have committed, the hurts that you have caused? What to do with the part of yourself that you hate, the mistakes that keep beating on the door of your heart?
I am embarrassed at both my failings, and my failing to come to terms with them. I have been stuck, pinned to past errors while everyone else moved forward. I have felt marked, branded and tattooed with past failings. I have felt them above my head when I introduce myself. I have worried about them more than an imperfect body when I undress. I have felt the stain of them burn down my cheeks when I cry.
So yes, Mr. Whitman, I contain multitudes. For most of my life, I have wished I did not. I have wished that I were a simple, happy, uncomplicated nomad, blissfully unaware of the past and able to leave my mistakes behind.
Whitman understood this – that life, art and emotion are inherently messy. This acceptance of messiness has been my turning point. I now embrace that I have a messy soul, mind and heart. They are filled with joy, and filled with defeat. They bounce between success and failure, tears of happiness and tears of sadness, earth-shaking love and underworld-shivering loneliness. Containing multitudes means not just embracing different facets of the good; it also means accepting the faults and failures.
The reason I could not do this before? I could not sit calmly in the mess. I never understood that beauty develops precisely because of, not despite, the fractures we experience.
We make mistakes. Multitudes of them. When you paint your heart and repaint your self, you are not an artist who specializes in the still life genre. Your heart does not belong in a fruit bowl alongside oranges and apples. It is vibrant. It contradicts itself. It causes itself pain. And it also beats with almost inexpressible love and joy.
I am the base materials for living a life of love. That starts with me. I have a new acceptance of my self, warts and wounds included. I am. I grow. I am growing.
The birds they sang
At the break of day
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be. . .
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.