There’s an old haiku, “Barn’s burned down. Now I can see the moon.” I’ve always loved it, because it very concisely encapsulates a core tenet of mine: that in the midst of heartache and loss, there is still beauty. We just have to look up.
Also, I appreciate that some Japanese guy had his barn burn down and it probably upset him. Misery really does love company, even if that company comes from the words of a long-dead farmer. So thanks for the reminder about the moon, buddy. <shoulder chuck>
I’m dealing with a rather intense amount of loss lately. There is deep grief, deeper than maybe I’ve ever felt before. I actually spent yesterday in bed. I never do that. I’m not in any danger or anything so don’t do an intervention, but I am acutely aware of the death in my life. Part of me is dying and falling away. I know enough about shamanism and mysticism to know this is okay, and that I can go through it consciously and as safely as possible, and that I will come out the other side of this emptied out and ready to be filled again with joy and opportunity. This is the blessing of being hollowed out: it allows more room for compassion and happiness.
But goddamn, it sucks in the meantime.
I’ve been doing some keening and I didn’t know those sounds could come out of my body. Have you ever cried to the point where you can stand outside of yourself as it’s happening and say “Wow, that chick’s upset?” It’s like that.
After the last wail, I calmed down and realized I was hungry, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to have a decent meal (“perhaps a crust of bread…” said the sad little orphan in my mind). I considered getting cozy with an extra blanket and lighting a candle, but that seemed too gentle and sweet for my current state. Friends suggested I take a hot bath, but that just seemed like too much work.
But with that tired grief came the memory of this old haiku. I could picture the scene precisely: moonlit night, raging fire, tragic figure in silhouette watching as her property disintegrated. And then I saw her fling herself onto the barn pyre, victimized, tormented, and voluntarily suffering even more. Losing the barn was bad enough but she martyred herself. Maybe she never deserved to have that barn in the first place. Maybe the fire was all her fault, so she was unworthy of the moon. Immolation was a punishment for imperfection, maybe, or a distorted sense of heroics. I think that’s part of suffering really: conflating martyrdom with service as if pain serves the world or suffering proves something holy or earns you points. It doesn’t. I took a restorative yoga class recently and was reminded again that you don’t get a gold star for being uncomfortable when you don’t have to be. It defeats the purpose — definitely in yoga, and maybe in life, too.
Life is uncomfortable and none of us have fire-proof barns. None of us are special because we suffer, and suffering a little more doesn’t make it so. There is something matter-of-fact and beautiful in the notion that I am not special because I’m feeling pain. In fact, I’m doing what everyone has done, what everyone will do. Like, everyone. Every human ever. My discomfort doesn’t suddenly make me holy, and it certainly doesn’t make the world a better place. If anything, we need more people who know how to be joyful.
I believe that we know before we decide to be born that we’re gonna have a few barns burn down, we’re going to mourn and be uncomfortable, angry, and scared, and we sign up anyway because it’s all completely worth it. So…martyrdom? Adding extra suffering? What the fuck for? Who benefits from jumping on the pyre? Wouldn’t it be far more useful to just get a hug and some help with the hose?
So, I ate a salad and soaked in the tub. I felt a little better. And you know what? I’m still learning what I need to learn, still doing the work, still getting hollowed out. Nobody had me arrested for exercising a little kindness to myself, just like nobody called a press conference when I didn’t.
There’s a moon to see. Pass me a tissue and let’s get some marshmallows.