We take life as it’s given to us. We take it for granted that life is joy and pain, that the measure of one is the measure of the other. I always did. I had a romantic relationship with suffering. I was a poet — someone who transformed pain into beauty. I felt godly when I wrote poetry: I created out of torment a reason to be glad of my messy human life. I was passionate. I wanted hard, and when I got, my rejoicing lit the night sky. When I lost, my misery made the dark blaze with the energy of loss, one intensity no less than the other.
I could not imagine a life any other way — a human life, that tender thing, that soft animal with pulsing blood, sharp teeth, with hunger, a creature with an instinct to suckle, defend. I was scared to death I’d lose what I loved. I could never really rest my bones when I lay down at night, for guilt over my children, worry for their well-being. I’d count the years my partner was older than I was, imagine (because I could not help it) how it would feel to lose him. Poison kept a steady, slow drip going all day, every day, all week, all year. If somebody got mad at me, or disapproved of something I’d done, the drip got turned faster, harder, richer. It was as if the judging world kept a steady hand on the knob. I spent many of my waking hours putting out little fires, always on the lookout, keeping my senses sharp for the encroach of danger, instability. What if there wasn’t enough money? What would I do without health insurance? What if I found a lump in my breast? On and on.
But always I told myself — the only thing is to accept that life is this way, to resign to it. It’s the human condition. It’s the deck we’re dealt when we occupy a human skin. Life is great and it’s awful, and then you die. You try to make sense of it with poetry. You cope via therapy, with good friends, with passion and wine — and sleep, when it comes, when it will favor you.
I never believed it could all be different. If you’d told me it could, I might have said — yeah, but who’d want it? Who’d want a life where nothing hurt? Where’s the poetry in that? Where’s the heart, the growth, the wisdom? Mostly, I wouldn’t have been able to picture it, to imagine what it would feel like — to be joyful but not for any reason, to know it would never stop, even if things in the outer life got very hard.
Now I watch what people go through — how they hurt, how they think there’s no other way — and I remember. I know it from the inside. I also know what the other is like, and how a human life is much bigger than people suspect. Than I ever suspected. My hope is that somebody will begin to be able to imagine it for themselves, will want it so much that the wanting eclipses all others, everything else they ever dreamed was at the deeply beating heart of an authentic human life.
We were not poured into this skin to suffer. We were given it to love. It is possible to love and not to hurt. There is nothing more important than to discover this.