Summer Short 9
The Courage to Bear Witness
If I had to come up with the exact opposite phrase that describes my personality it would be easy, breezy. I hate this about myself. Easy breezy… Cover Girl is the vibe I’m shooting for, a mix somewhere between Malibu Barbie and Jimmy Buffet who has bumper stickers like I Brake for Butterflies, or Life is Good on the back of my vintage convertible VW Bug because I don’t give a lick about how all that sun exposure is aging my face.
Even though I do not expect to really master this in my lifetime, I give it all I’ve got. I work at it like I’m studying for an advanced degree. I am just not remotely successful at it. If I didn’t laugh at myself, I’d probably be 10 seconds away from being institutionalized at how hard I try and how far I fall from that intention.
It requires a certain level of self-obsessed psychological ambition and time to unpack your own mental baggage. As it happens, I have both. And this is what I discovered – people like me, and maybe you identify so let me say, people like us, have felt troubled and guilty bearing witness to our pain or the pain of others or the pain of the world. As if telling the truth, as we know it, makes us Debbie Downers that look at the world through gray-tinted glasses not rainbow tinted aviators which I’ve noticed are all the rage right now.
But even though I have a tendency to be overly dramatic for only the most honorable of reasons – artistic expression, of course- the unshakeable bottom line is that I’m not making things up. If I find life hard, it is not because I’m doing it wrong, it is because life is hard. There is sadness in the world. There is unkindness. It is just people like me can’t float right by them, hair blowing in the wind saying, “Whatever, Ken. Let’s head back to the dream house!” We bear witness to things exactly as they are. It’s not that Life isn’t Good, it is just to be more accurate and honest, life is both good and hard. Try finding that on a bumper sticker.
There is a beautiful Tibetian myth that says all spiritual warriors (it helps to think of yourself as one) have a broken heart, must have a broken heart, because it is only through the break that the wonder and mysteries of life can enter us. The heart that breaks open can contain the universe. (Joanna Macy) It is only by bearing witness to things exactly as they are, when the voice of the pain fits the pain, where there is no room for distortion or illusion, that life can touch us in its all its raw beauty. And it is only in this place where true healing can begin for medicine needs to reach the deepest depths of the wound in order to start closing the cut at the surface.
This is why we must remember the Holocaust and 9/11 and other atrocities exactly as they are. This is why it is essential to bear honest witness to our own naked stories even when we’d rather just breeze right on by them, unexamined, braking for butterflies as we go. For to be a spiritual warrior, we must have the courage to see the Truth, in all its uncompromised and naked story, no matter how harsh, has a Beauty all its own.