Writing a spiritual will

Responding to heartbreak

Some days it is hard to avoid despair. A fellow poet on a poetry email list to which I belong sent the following link this morning: Jesse Kornbluth: The Police Riot at Berkeley: If They'll Beat a Poet Laureate, Will They Kill a Student? The headline looks alarmist, but once I read the story and watched the videos, I understood its tone.

The police attack peaceful protesters who are standing up against, among other things, an 81% tuition hike. The protestors -- poetry graduate students, professors of media studies -- wind up in the hospital with broken ribs. What on earth is wong with my country, that a peaceful protest about economic realities leads to this? Think what you will about the Occupy Wall Street protests; I have some mixed feelings about their ultimate usefulness, myself. But this is police brutality. This is appalling.

That's the heartbreak at the top of my inbox. There are others. Too many to count, once one starts paying attention.

What to do? There's a very real temptation to crawl back into bed, literally or metaphorically -- to say, I can't deal with this today. It hurts too much. And I want to say: if that is where you're at, if that is where I'm at, that's okay. That's a reasonable response. It's a human response. We need to take care of ourselves, and sometimes that means stepping away. Closing the browser window. Retreating to bed, or to a cup of coffee, or to a loving embrace, or to tears. (Or all of the above.)

Sometimes all we can do is weep. Sometimes all we can do is pray. I try to remember that if the sorrow of the world is too much for me to bear, I can always reach inside myself and hand the suffering to God. God can handle it. There is no shame in giving it to God to carry for me.

Sometimes we can take steps to fix the things which are broken. And sometimes the things which are broken are systemic, or seem so far away from us that we can't begin to imagine how we might make them better. I don't know how to impact the police department in Berkeley which is home to the officers who beat a poet and English professor until his ribs broke. I don't know how to help the victims of the Penn State rapes reach healing.

So I do the only things I know how to do. I pray. I ask my heart to open, even though sometimes it opens to realities which hurt. I try to be kind and compassionate in the world. Maybe today I can find someone who needs a kind word, or for whom I can do a small favor, and in that way I can ever-so-slightly tip the worldwide scales toward grace and compassion, just the tiniest bit.

It's not enough. But it's what's in my hands.