There’s moments when I’m listening to music, or reading poetry, or watching a bird fly or feeling the wind off the sea on my face and my heart rises and swells in my chest, beating out that this and this and this- this is living.
There is such a need to live at the moment. With recent terrible events and a growing feeling that things are only going to get worst it could be easy to slip into half-living, fear mongering and stopping ourselves from doing what we would normally do just in case…something might happen. The reality is any day, any hour ‘something’ could happen to anyone of us. Living is always a risk, there is no contract that we’ve entered into that says we will be safe as long as we live the ‘right way and avoid certain situations. The opposite is true, nobody can know what will happen so you have to keep on living. The alternative is living to exist instead of existing to live. It’s the vulnerability of life that invites us to grab hold of it, the infallibility of it makes it precious. I often feel like you can live life to its limits or you can live in a very small place within the centre of the life you lead. It seems to me we are supposed to do the former, to throw ourselves into the world and test it and wonder at what it can offer us if we but ask.
There is no solution to the mess that the world gets itself into. Everytime I go on Facebook at the moment there are a plethora of views on whose right, whose wrong, what should be done and who is to blame. My opinion is I have no definite opinion, there is too much complexity that it feels impossible for me to have an opinion on it, an opinion that is well justified and evidential just doesn’t fit, there are too many things that have happened in the past and too many possible outcomes to a whole number of actions that could be taken. Who can know the future?
What we do know is that most of the time we go through the motions of another day and then something big happens which shakes us all and reminds us of our mortality and makes us wonder at what there is beyond the everyday motions. Perhaps we pray and perhaps we peer into our souls and for a second know that there is more to it. The growing unity to stand against evil, the knowing in your gut that the events in places like Beirut and Paris are wrong, the desire which outweighs your very human fear to help others in their hour of need and the sense that ‘together we stand and apart we fall’ are all spoken from that spiritual place at the heart of you. That place which operates within and beyond this world. It glimpses at a greater good that is much greater than any individual but which we become aware of when we put another person’s needs before our own. The way that feeling which follows resonates a rightness through us. The rightness exists beyond us. Why do bad things happen in the world, because the good couldn’t be known without the bad, the worst of situations often brings out the best in people. We couldn’t articulate in our minds what bravery means if fear didn’t first come before it.
“Humiliation always involves two. The one who does the humiliating, and the one who allows himself to be humiliated. If the second is missing, that is, if the passive party is immune to humiliation, then the humiliation vanishes into thin air.” (Etty Hillesum- An interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43)
For myself personally the solution to ‘terror’ is to continue to live in delight, to not allow terror to get a foothold. As for most things where one human being is inflicting an emotional outcome in another, It takes two for it to happen; ‘terrorising’ could easily replace ‘humiliation’ in the quote above. Terrorists can take a whole range of vile actions but it is another’s reaction to them that counts. As an individual I have no way of controlling the future actions of terrorists or any other people that are inflicting fear and terror on others, the only thing I can control is my own reaction. I could easily hate them, I could easily blame them for all that is wrong in the world and I could easily stop myself from doing the things I would normally do just in case… But then I would be allowing another to inflict an emotional outcome of fear and suspicion in myself.
“As life becomes harder and more threatening, it also becomes richer, because the fewer expectations we have, the more the good things of life become unexpected gifts that we accept with their gratitude.”
(Etty Hillesum- An interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Ett Hillesum 1941-43)
There have been moments when living in London this past week especially that have made me uneasy, a packed tube presenting all kinds of uncomfortable what ifs into my mind. Yet I stand by my resolution that a life in fear is to live in a small, empty place within yourself. All this is easy for me to say, I have never been confronted with terror in my life, how can I know how I would react? How can I know, if I’d be able to go on in the same way if I survived it? An answer to terror? All I can do is delight in the life I have right here, right now when I have it.
I recently read the first chapter of ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert and I was compelled to look up some of the poetry of Jack Gilbert. From Elizabeth Gilbert’s words I got the impression he had many wise things to say and I was not disappointed. A man who retreated from ‘real’ life to live on top of a mountain in Greece and write poetry, not surprisingly has a very measured and acute view on the world. This poem suggests a way to live as individuals in the midst of this wave of global crisis and suffering we find ourselves in.