February 9, 2010
By Jude Rittenhouse
This morning’s light seems excruciatingly bright. Three houses on the shore look like black boxes plunked down between the salt pond and ocean. Both bodies of water have become blazing white mirrors in this moment, so I draw down a window shade halfway to keep from being blinded by brightness. Now I consider other ways we humans protect ourselves from seeing what is too much to take in or what feels painful to witness.
In the wake of Haiti’s earthquake and aftershocks, people around the world reached out to help in whatever ways they could. Nearly a month later, the depth and breadth of the damage and destitution continue to be revealed. On our local NPR station this morning, I listened to an interview with Patrick Tardieu, Curator of the Haitian Library of the Fathers of the Holy Spirit in Port-au-Prince. He survived the earthquake but, having no place to live or even sleep, he traveled to Canada, then was invited to Providence, Rhode Island, by Ted Widmer, Director of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. The two began developing plans to save the Haitian Library. Tardieu has now returned home but, before leaving Providence, he spoke of his concerns about the library’s instability, especially its roof, given the coming rainy season. He mentioned documents from the Amistadt trial and rare books from Haiti’s colonial period. The radio program reminded listeners that we humans deeply identify with our history, our culture.
Yet a library might seem trivial when people need food, clothes, medicine, housing, and assistance surviving the aftershocks of trauma and grief. I wonder: How much have I closed my shades in the face of this overwhelming glare? Then I remember a favorite quote by Mother Teresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” I remember my history, not unlike Haiti’s: repelling invasion after invasion, surviving shattering after shattering. Had I been able to bear and look beyond my interior darkness, I might have seen that everyone shares this story in some way, to some degree or another. Which brings me to another favorite quote by Alfred Lord Tennyson: “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find a sorrow and a suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
When we feel overwhelmed, some deep old wound has been touched. Our adult eyes have difficulty recognizing how threatening the world sometimes seemed to us as children. We look back at our child selves and think: “Oh, I was just a silly kid when I got so frightened by …(insert almost anything here: Dad’s drinking, Mom screaming, being left alone, brother trying to kill me, sister taking away my blanket).” Yet, to the child, it felt like the world was dangerous, crumbling, ending. In such moments, we found ways to anesthetize ourselves and dress ourselves in armor. As adults, when we feel overwhelmed, light has found its precise way through thick fog, has found the chink in old rusting armor. When light tries to call us home, old self-protective habits can keep us lost, trapped, until we awaken.
This journey—from early onslaught to overwhelm to self protection to knee-jerk reaction to an awakening awareness which keeps peeling away old defensive layers—is one I know intimately. I also know that logic can’t take us very far down this path, so enough of logic. Now that sun has risen higher, painting a larger swath of ocean with dancing light, I tug gently at my shade and it snaps up, exposing a stunning day. I feel my heart filling. Overflowing. In such times, creation seems to me the only sane answer. I tap my keyboard to discover:
Brothers and Sisters
My small human logic envisions
a box of crayons: scribbling
one hue on top of the other and every
other until a density of darkness
covers, consumes, swallows
white paper. Yet white,
despite it’s strange paleness,
contains all colors. Holds them
together like the arms of ocean
carrying each precious drop of water
along with sharks, algae, coral, tuna,
whales, shipwrecks, bottles, islands.
Crimson, azure, green, amber must
from their white mother to express
their uniqueness. Still, the truth
of white’s unity is patient. It waits
for a moment, like now, when light
can jitterbug with water’s surface,
upon interwoven movement
even as whiteness drapes
its single glowing gown across sea’s
encompassing, ever-swelling belly.
Are we separate from each other? Of course. Are we irrevocably and intimately connected with and to each other? Without a doubt. Do we interact with and impact each other continually on our singular journeys? Absolutely. Do we recognize these truths in our daily lives? We each do the best we can. Our histories, our cultures, our individual stories can divide us and bring us together. My prayer/ hope/ intention today and every day is to continue in kindness, always deepening my awareness of what holds us, even as we swim, sink, float, cry, sing, believing ourselves to be all alone. And now I see that word: alone. Add just one sister/brother L and it becomes: all one.
Jude Rittenhouse has received a Writer’s Grant from the Vermont Studio Center, a first place short story award, and various poetry awards. In addition to her holistic practice, Integrated Healing Services, Jude teaches at conferences, retreats, schools, hospitals, alternative health centers, and domestic violence shelters. She is also an inspirational speaker and presenter for literary audiences, cancer survivors, spiritual gatherings, high school and college students, and other groups. In all of her endeavors, she strives to empower others as they explore their unique journeys toward wholeness.
To learn more about her holistic practice or to inquire about her poetry chapbook, Living In Skin, contact: Jude@JudeRittenhouse.com or call (401) 348-8079.
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