I heard this poem one morning while listening to On Being on public radio. It’s my Sunday morning ritual, to drink coffee in bed and listen to enlightened conversation about beliefs and science, and whatever does or does not make up life. It’s my Church. The poem, Go to the limits of your longing, translated by philosopher and Buddhist scholar, Joanna Macy is a work by Rainer Maria Rilke. I love it because is speaks so clearly to recovery. It seems the closer we get to it (being recovered, if there is such a thing), the harder it is to go back out into the world because of things that happened “before.”
It’s easy in the beginning to hide inside and lick your wounds while everyone understands. When you turn down invitations your friends smile and say they will ask again next time. And they do, but their lives go on while you keep to yourself and heal so that sooner or later, if you don’t accept an invitation once-in-a-while, they will stop offering. Who wants to have every act of kindness shoved back at them with a ‘No thank you.’
It’s a scary prospect to “let everything happen to you.” But as Rilke says, no feeling is final, even though it does feel that way sometimes and I am always ready to accept that final feeling as the way it will be for me from now on—for forever. If I feel old, it begins to be how I am. If I feel rejected, my posture becomes more guarded. If I feel powerful, then that is what I am now, until every little set-back becomes catastrophic, and again, final.
The truth is I am all of these things, each at different times or sometimes all at once. .
And sometimes I am back to baby steps; so small that no one on the outside could see them. Going to work, showing kindness to someone else rather than thinking of myself, literally putting one foot in front of the other by going for a walk when I would rather stay inside the house and “think about” everything I need to do. Then of course, not do it.
Such small steps can lead to something, though, and today, they led me to the hardware store to buy new hinges for my backyard gate. This gate has been sagging and scraping the stone path beneath it for several years, and finally, a few months ago, the hinges gave up and snapped under the weight of neglect. So, I was left with literally picking up and moving he gate every time I wanted to put the trash cans away or let the dog out.
Of course you know what that led to. The trash cans always sat outside the gate, and I let the dog in and out through the house. Then today, I finally let my baby steps take me somewhere. I texted a couple of friends about going to the Menard’s super store (where, by the way, they sell groceries, baby powder, toothpaste, and tampons), and had the time of my life wandering through the aisles to see what they had for sale next (new release videos, country music CDs, dog and cat toys, frozen delivery-brand pizzas).
Then I came home and fixed my gate and swept the garage and still had time for a Starbucks and grocery
shopping before I picked up Ben from his dad’s. And in between, I had a very long texting conversation with a friend who I never thought would forgive me for being such a bratt when all he did was tell me the truth
So I am going to let everything happen to me because I do believe that nearby is the country called life. And not too far in the distance is everything else.
Here’s the whole poem:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.