It’s an unremarkable day, a Sunday, and I pick up the San Francisco Chronicle to read while eating lunch. I find myself engaged with a story of a 12 yr. old girl sold into sex slavery by her auntie. I’m reading it and the sorrow in this story feels like it takes a bite out of my heart. Immediate pain. I don’t even know this young child or her auntie, but I don’t need to. At that moment, I feel her pain, her family’s pain, and I understand how deeply connected I am with everyone, no matter where they are, or who they are. It’s a profound moment and I use it. I make a conscious decision to stay with what I’m feeling and not distract myself, which is to say I do not to abandon myself.
I decide to gather some flowers from the garden and make a little altar for her. Staying with my feelings doesn’t mean I have to make it harder than it already is. I can bring flowers into the room.
I have a garden and it’s the right time of year. I don’t have to go far. While I cut the flowers I naturally begin thinking of her parents, her sister, her brothers, and I cry. As I cut stems and fill a vase, I’m thinking of her alone and afraid, and I cry again. The tears feel good, I need them, but its more than that. It feels like I’m holding her. She has not been forgotten.
The vase goes on the coffee table and I choose not to move the newspaper and remote control. There’s a certain irony to it. I say a prayer, I say a prayer for her and feel it. Then I test the edges of my willingness to forgive the auntie. I am an auntie. I don’t want to believe an auntie can do something like this. Her prayer is shorter. I know, ultimately, I want that auntie to feel a strong love and joy in her heart. If she did, she would not, could not, sell her niece to men for money. Today I can more easily pray for her to know love, but that day…well, I really hated her that day. My generous prayers are for the 12 year old. My stingy prayers are for the auntie, and its okay for now. I let myself off the hook.
I make a cup of tea and offer it up—the nourishment, warmth and comfort of it—to a cluster of people I don’t know on the other side of the world. It seems like such a small thing to do, but it feels significant.
Later in the day I write a poem about it and choose not to start the poem with the story. I start with my mind-set regarding sorrow and uncertainty. Just when I think coming to peace with the fact of uncertainty and sorrow in this life will assure my protection from the pain of it, I am reminded it doesn’t work that way. I feel what I feel—sometimes painful—but it’s real, unaltered and unprotected. It’s honest and it matures me, in a good way. It makes me stronger. At the other end of the spectrum, I feel love more deeply than I used to. And joy. And gratitude. And generosity. I’m softer inside and I belly laugh every single day.
Would you say I was crazy if I told you I like it this way?
When the fact
of uncertainty and sorrow
without struggle inside me,
everything relaxes and
I can see for miles
forward and back.
I can smell lavender again.
I can reach for your hand.
When forgiveness becomes me
Turn—forgive us all
my walk-about is barefooted
feeling everything as though it is
white sand on a warm beach.
But when the story
in the morning paper breaks my heart
the story of the twelve year old girl
sold into sex slavery
by her auntie,
when the story breaks my heart
I’m stumped again.
What do I do?
What do I do?
I cut flowers from the garden
and fill the vase with my tears.
Place them on a makeshift altar
the coffee table covered
with newsprint and remote control.
I dedicate this moment, right now,
I lay down the rant in my head
May all beings be safe
May all beings be free
May all beings live in peace.
The fragrance of stargazer lilies
fill every room.
I make a cup of tea
for the one I love
and offer it up
for the many I love.