I decided earlier this evening that I needed a break from paying attention to the Senate health care bill & so I went looking for some poetry. Found this, which reminded me of a quote from a chapter in My Bright Abyss, originally published here as “Hive of Nerves“:
There is a distinction to be made between the anxiety of daily existence, which we talk about endlessly, and the anxiety of existence, which we rarely mention at all. The former fritters us into dithering, distracted creatures. The latter attests to—and, if attended to, discloses—our souls. And yet it is a distinction without a difference, perhaps, and as crucial to eventually overcome as it is to initially understand, for to be truly alive means to feel one’s ultimate existence within one’s daily existence, to feel one’s trivial, frittering anxieties acquiring a lightness, a rightness, a meaning. So long as anxiety is merely something to be alleviated, it is not life, or we are not alive enough to experience it as such.
I don’t mean to be describing an intellectual transformation, or a transformation that is available only to “intellectuals.” I suppose that for many people—people inclined to read essays like this one, for instance—the transformation might seem to begin with a mental decision and a definite application of the will. In fact, I think taking such a step indicates that some rift of meaning and feeling has already opened inside of us, and we are clutching, consciously or unconsciously, at the rock face and rubble above this sudden abyss. In the end if we are to integrate our anxieties into our lives—and thereby alleviate them—any merely intellectual understanding of them is inadequate.
…It is a strange thing how sometimes merely to talk honestly of God, even if it is only to articulate our feelings of separation and confusion, can bring peace to our spirits. You thought you were unhappy because this or that was off in your relationship, this or that was wrong in your job, but the reality is that your sadness stemmed from your aversion to, your stalwart avoidance of, God. The other problems may very well be true, and you will have to address them, but what you feel when releasing yourself to speak of the deepest needs of your spirit is the fact that no other needs could be spoken of outside of that context. You cannot work on the structure of your life if the ground of your being is unsure.
Anyway here is the poem from tonight. It’s good to think, at times, about the ways “that sometimes life and language break each other open to change, that a rupture in one can be a rapture in the other, that sometimes there are, as it were, words underneath the words—even the very Word underneath the words,” to lift more lines from Christian Wiman. It is good to think of these things even when a person is in grad school and studying medicine. It is good to think of these things even when one’s country is falling apart.
A Prayer That Will Be Answered
Lord let me suffer much
and then die
Let me walk through silence
and leave nothing behind not even fear
Make the world continue
let the ocean kiss the sand just as before
Let the grass stay green
so that the frogs can hide in it
so that someone can bury his face in it
and sob out his love
Make the day rise brightly
as if there were no more pain
And let my poem stand clear as a windowpane
bumped by a bumblebee’s head
tr. by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak