I am hardly ever able to sort through my memories and come away whole or untroubled. It is difficult to sift through the stones, the weighty moments and know which is rare gem, which raw coal, which worthless shale or slate. So, one by one, I drag them across the page and when one cuts into the white, leaves a trail of blood, no matter how narrow the stream, then I know I’ve found the real thing, the diamond, one of the priceless gems my pain produced. “There! There,” I say, “is a memory worth keeping.” ~Nikki Grimes“Poems”
I have tucked-away memories that still scratch my tender skin: when they surface, I tend to bleed at the recollection, feeling the familiar sting behind my eyelids and upside-down stomach.
Some people work hard to completely bury painful history, unwilling to allow it back into the daylight to inflict even more harm.
I don’t welcome overwhelming memories back, but when they come unbidden, I grant them access only because I know, as this happened to me long ago, I will feel the sharp ache of sorrow when I witness bleeding in another.
I was there too. I am there with you now. What happened was real but done. Its healing leaves behind only a thin line where the bleeding was.
The first time I saw him it was just a flash of gray ringed tail disappearing into autumn night mist as I opened the back door to pour kibble into the empty cat dish on the porch: just another stray cat among many who visit the farm.
A few stay.
So he did, keeping a distance in the shadows under the trees, a gray tabby with white nose and bib, serious yet skittish, watching me as I moved about feeding dogs, cats, birds, horses, creeping to the cat dish only when the others drifted away.
There was something in the way he held his head, an oddly forward ear; a stilted swivel of the neck. I startled him one day as he ate his fill at the dish.
He ran, the back of his head flashing red, scalp completely gone.
Not oozing, nor something new, but recent. A nearly mortal scar from an encounter with coyote, or eagle or bobcat. This cat thrived despite trauma and pain, tissue still raw, trying to heal.
He had chosen to live; life had chosen him.
My first thought was to trap him, to put him humanely to sleep to end his suffering, in truth to end my distress at seeing him every day, envisioning florid flesh even as he hunkered invisible in the shadowlands of the barnyard.
Yet the scar did not keep him from eating well or licking clean his pristine fur.
As much as I want to look away, to avoid confronting his mutilation, I always greet him from a distance, a nod to his maimed courage, through wintry icy blasts and four foot snow, through spring rains and summer heat with flies.
His wounds remain unhealed, a reminder of his inevitable fate.
I never will stroke that silky fur, or feel his burly purr, assuming he still knows how, but still feed his daily fill, as he feeds my need to know: the value of a life so broken, each breath taken filled with sacred air.
You love the roses – so do I. I wish The sky would rain down roses, as they rain From off the shaken bush. Why will it not? Then all the valley would be pink and white And soft to tread on. They would fall as light As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be Like sleeping and like waking, all at once! ~George Eliotfrom “The Spanish Gypsy”
It was gardener/author Alphonse Karr in the mid-19th century who wrote that even though most people grumble about roses having thorns, he was grateful that thorns have roses.
There was a time when thorns were not part of our world, when we knew nothing of suffering and death. Yet in pursuing and desiring more than we were already generously given, we received more than we bargained for. We are still paying for that decision; we continue to reel under the thorns our choices produce — every day there is more bloodletting.
So a Rose was sent to adorn the thorns.
And what did we do? We chose thorns to make Him bleed and still do to this day.
A fragrant rose blooms beautiful, bleeding amid the thorns, raining down as we sleep and wake, and will to the endless day.
Abandon entouré d’abandon, tendresse touchant aux tendresses… C’est ton intérieur qui sans cesse se caresse, dirait-on; se caresse en soi-même, par son propre reflet éclairé. Ainsi tu inventes le thème du Narcisse exaucé. ~Rainer Maria Rilke “Dirait-on” from his French Poetry collection ‘Les chansons de la rose’
(Literal translation of “So They Say” from “The Song of the Rose”) Abandon enveloping abandon, Tenderness brushing tendernesses, Who you are sustains you eternally, so they say; Your very being is nourished by its own enlightened reflection; So you compose the theme of Narcissus redeemed.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s Grandeur”
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Luke 13:34
…for him to see me mended, I must see him torn… ~Luci Shawfrom “Mary’s Song”
Today marks the crushing of Christ in the Garden of the Oil Press, Gethsemane.
“Gethsemane” means “oil press” –a place of olive trees treasured for the fine oil delivered from their fruit. And so, on this Thursday night, the pressure is turned up high on the disciples, not just on Jesus.
The disciples are expected, indeed commanded, to keep watch alongside the Master, to be filled with prayer, to avoid the temptation of the weakened flesh thrown at them at every turn.
But they fail pressure testing and fall apart.
Like them, I am easily lulled by complacency, by my over-indulged satiety for material comforts that do not truly fill hunger or quench thirst, by my expectation that being called a follower of Jesus is enough.
It is not enough. I fail the pressure test as well.
I fall asleep through His anguish. I dream, oblivious, while He sweats blood. I might even deny I know Him when pressed hard.
Yet, the moment of betrayal becomes the moment He is glorified, thereby God is glorified.
Crushed, bleeding, poured out over the world — from wings that brood and cover us — He becomes the sacrifice that anoints us.
Incredibly, indeed miraculously, He loves us, bent as we are, anyway.
VERSE 1 Let us praise Jesus, the Washer of Feet; Jesus, the Lordly who gave up his Seat; Jesus, the Maker of all that there is; Jesus, the Servant to all who are his.
REFRAIN We praise Jesus We praise Jesus
VERSE 2 Let us praise Jesus, the Blesser of Bread; Jesus, the Off’ring who suffered and bled; Jesus, the Royal who knelt in the dust; Jesus, the Priest in whose Blessing we trust.
VERSE 3 Let us praise Jesus, the Shepherd alone; Jesus, the Lover who gathers His own; Jesus, the Wounded who died for us all; Jesus, the Christ on whose goodness we call.
VERSE 4 Let us praise Jesus, the Savior adored; Jesus, the Sonnet of praise to our Lord; Jesus, the Gracious whose own life He gave; Jesus, the Lowly who came down to save.
My farm work gloves look beat up after a year of service. They keep me from blistering while forking innumerable loads of smelly manure into wheelbarrows, but also help me unkink frozen hoses, tear away blackberry vines from fencing, pull thistle from the field and heavy hay bales from the haymow. Over the years, I’ve gone through several dozen gloves, which have protected my hands as I’ve cleaned and bandaged deep wounds on legs and hooves, pulled on foals during the hard contractions of difficult births, held the head of dying animals as they sleep one final time.
Without my work gloves over the years, my hands would be full of rips and holes from the thorns and barbs of the world, sustaining scratches, callouses and blisters from the hard work of life.
But they aren’t scarred and wounded.
Thanks to these gloves, I’m presentable for my “day” work as a doctor where I don a different set of gloves many times a day.
The gloves don’t tell the whole story of my gratitude.
I’m thankful to a Creator God who doesn’t need to wear gloves when He goes to work in our world.
Who gathers us up even when we are dirty, smelly, and unworthy.
Who eases us into this life when we are vulnerable and weak,
and carries us gently home as we leave this world, weak and vulnerable.
Who holds us as we bleed from self and other-inflicted wounds.
Who won’t let us go, even when we fight back, or try not to pay attention, or care who He is.
And who came to us
with hands like ours~
tender, beautiful, easy to wound hands
because He didn’t need to wear gloves~
The ghosts swarm. They speak as one person. Each loves you. Each has left something undone.
Today’s edges are so sharp
they might cut anything that moved. ~Rae Armantrout from “Unbidden”
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are… Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
I am with you.
~Frederick Buechner in “Wishful Thinking and later” in Beyond Words
Seventeen years ago
a day started with bright sun above
and ended in tears and bloodshed below.
It is a day for recollection;
we live out remembrance
with weeping eyes open,
yet close our eyelids
to the red that flowed that day.
The day’s edges were so sharp
we all bled and still bear the scars.
Although I favor the open mind, I certainly do not advocate that the mind should be so open that the brains fall out. ~Arthur Hays Sulzberger — New York Times publisher from 1935-1961 from “Freedom of Information”
I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world. — Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems, Volume Two
Few things are as condemning in this day and age than being accused of being close-minded. In religion and politics, the most zealous liberals and hard-core conservatives are the least likely to see another point of view, much less tolerate it.
There is no chance of growth or redemption when there is no openness and willingness to change, to admit one could be a little bit misinformed or just plain wrong.
But I’ve known those who are so open-minded, there is nothing left inside their head but “whatever”:
~~It doesn’t matter, anything goes, if it works for you, who am I to judge, it’s a free country, consenting adults and all that~~
No boundaries, no barriers, all windows flung ajar and liberating breezes coming and going, no foundational beliefs, and then common sense is hopelessly robbed blind.
It is a terribly empty void to behold.
As for me, moderate middle-of-the-road person that I am, I strive to remain unlocked and ready to answer the knock on the door of my convictions and opinions to see who or what may be there, to be receptive to some possibility other than what I think I see and know.
In reality I’d rather be open-hearted over open-minded. It is far riskier, this bleeding of the heart until empty when touched, bruised or pierced. Perhaps a lot messier too.
Intentional bleeding, not accidental. Such a Love spilled from an open beating Heart followed by a flood of profound and forever undeserved Grace.
May that Heart break at the folly of our emptiness and never again close to the world.
Love your neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment.
The other way to say it is, ‘Love yourself as your neighbor.’ Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, strengthen yourself.
Ministers in particular, people in the caring professions in general, are famous for neglecting their selves with the result that they are apt to become in their own way as helpless and crippled as the people they are trying to care for and thus no longer selves who can be of much use to anybody.
It means pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness, both for your own sake and ultimately for the sake of those you love too. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them.
A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death. ~Frederick Buechner from Telling Secrets
We are reminded every time we hear safety instructions on an airplane before a flight takes off: “in the event of a sudden pressure change in the cabin, oxygen masks will appear – remember to put your own on before helping others with their masks.”
If we aren’t able to breathe ourselves, we won’t last long enough to be of assistance to anyone around us. Too often, sacrificing self-care threatens others’ well-being.
A headline appeared in my email from the American Psychiatric Association this morning: “Physicians Experience the Highest Suicide Rate of Any Profession” – there is rampant depression and burn-out among those who should know best how to recognize and respond to the danger signs — for women physicians, nearly 1 out of 5 are afflicted. Yet the work load only seems to increase, not diminish, the legal and moral responsibility weighs more heavily, and the hours available for sleep and respite shrink. In forty years of practicing medicine (my father liked to remind me “when are you going to stop ‘practicing’ and actually ‘do’ it?”), the work has never gotten easier, only harder and heavier.
I see suicidal patients all day and am immensely grateful I’ve never been suicidal, thank God, but anxiety is embedded deep in my DNA from my non-physician fretful farmer ancestors. Anxiety becomes the fuel and driver of the relentless physician journey on long lonely roads, spurring us to stay awake too many hours and travel too far when we should be closing our eyes and taking a break to breathe, just breathe.
However, we are trained to respond to anxiety from the first day in anatomy class: “and while you, Miss Polis, are trying to think of the name of that blood vessel, your patient is exsanguinating in front of you– drip, drip, drip….”
Terror-stricken at the thought I was inadequate to the task of saving a life, it took years for me to realize the name of the vessel didn’t bloody matter as long as I knew instinctively to clamp it, compress it, or by the love of the Living God, transfuse my own blood from my bleeding heart into my patient’s.
To-day I shall be strong, No more shall yield to wrong, Shall squander life no more; Days lost, I know not how, I shall retrieve them now; Now I shall keep the vow I never kept before.Ensanguining the skies How heavily it dies Into the west away; Past touch and sight and sound Not further to be found, How hopeless under ground Falls the remorseful day. ~A.E. Houseman from “How Clear, How Lovely Bright”
It was like a church to me. I entered it on soft foot, Breath held like a cap in the hand. It was quiet. What God there was made himself felt, Not listened to, in clean colours That brought a moistening of the eye, In a movement of the wind over grass. There were no prayers said. But stillness Of the heart’s passions — that was praise Enough; and the mind’s cession Of its kingdom. I walked on, Simple and poor, while the air crumbled And broke on me generously as bread.
~ R.S. Thomas “The Moor”
Last night, as you can see, was a surrounding sunset experience – 360 degrees of evolving color and patterns, streaks and swirls, gradation and gradual decline.
It was all in silence. No bird song, no wind, no spoken prayer.
Yet communion took place with the air breaking and feeding me like manna from heaven.
May I squander life no more and treasure each day.
May I keep my vows to God, church, family, friends, and patients.
May I be warmed on a chill winter day by the witness of such bleeding of last light of day.
In a patch of baked earth At the crumbled cliff’s brink, Where the parching of August Has cracked a long chink,
Against the blue void Of still sea and sky Stands single a thistle, Tall, tarnished, and dry.
Frayed leaves, spotted brown, Head hoary and torn, Was ever a weed Upon earth so forlorn,
So solemnly gazed on By the sun in his sheen That prints in long shadow Its raggedness lean?
From the sky comes no laughter, From earth not a moan. Erect stands the thistle, Its seeds abroad blown. ~Robert Laurence Binyon –“The Thistle”
There isn’t much that thrives in a dry summer like this other than mounds of blackberry bushes and scattered clusters of thistle. They both are defended by thorns to keep them from being eaten by all but the most persistent and hungry grazing animals.
I admire and recognize such tenacity, knowing I too have held tightly to my own defenses to keep from being swallowed up. I approach these weeds with respect for the scars they can leave behind – their roots go deep, their seeds travel far.
We coexist because we must.
How else would beauty come from our bleeding wounds?