But with humility I have to say: this isn’t Nyia’s story: it’s mine.
The Achilles heel, the chink in the armor. The soft underbelly, the hot button, the fatal flaw. What else do we have in our armament of language, what other analogies for that point in our psyche, invisible until touched? Placid, competent, we’re sailing smooth and smug, temperate and level, and then that tender spot is brushed, and whoosh … we are engulfed in flames.
I was always a child moved to tears by other’s tragedies, other’s pains. A dog dead on the street, a stranger’s funeral, a mother slapping a child an aisle over in the K-mart: I’d cry in sincere pain over these once-removed pains, as much as over my own. Probably, in retrospect, that’s why I started to meditate. Buddhism teaches our interconnectedness, but my hyperactive nerve endings, always too alert to the world’s pains, knew that part all too well; it was the question of how to soothe that pain I sought. The more I looked around, the more I learned, the more I hurt. There were dead kittens in the gutter, wire around their throats, on my street; there were weal-raising beatings in my house, and the neighbor’s, and across the street, and, when I raised my eyes beyond my street, as far as I could tell, in every house on every street as far as the eye could see. And then, there had been genocides, there were waves of starvation; there had been torturers in wartimes and there were wars going on, now, secret and open, from Peru to Nicaragua and on and on, there was Anne Frank and there were stalkers and serial killers and factory farms, there were cattle standing in line now, there were despots and johns gesturing now, and in each tidy news story were jostling thousands upon thousands of dead kittens, bruised and lifeless infants, children wounded and weeping or staring dead-eyed, there were slit and bleeding mothers grieving it all, rape after rape and blow after blow, children left alone again and again, again, the boot crushing the face again, again, again. I felt burned by it all; scalded anew, repeatedly, yet also numbed, drained. Sisyphus and Prometheus and me.
Buddha’s message, we are not our bodies: it was a balm; it was a lifeline. We will take birth again: the relief, the hope. Love is what is real: sanity, buoyancy. Just be aware: I could feel again, feel both the staggering blow of the world’s injustice and the delicate brush of the violet’s petal, the moth’s wing. Let others praise the love of Jesus for giving them their lives; for me, the drawn rictus of the face, the mutilated hands, the blank horror of the cross guarantees that there is no respite for me there. The serenity of Buddha, though, accepts me, is accepted.
And with that help, I walk a tightrope. I balance it well, most days; I feel that I’m doing right, day by day, in my job and my relationships. I even think I’m filling, in my paltry way, a grain of sand here and there on the right side, I try to stay aware of the evanescent delicacies of the world — the paper-thin skin of the newborn, the flutter of the finch in the eaves, the sweet exhale of my child — even as I try not to block, but not to drown in, the deluge of the world’s agonies.
But then I lose it.
Two lines in a New York Times story; a life, no stronger and no longer than a candle’s flame, than a moth’s wing blinking in a porch light.
I can’t tell you this story. Her story isn’t mine to tell, and anyway, I don’t think that I can. It’s not her “story” that haunts me, anyway; it’s her; I can’t stop thinking of this baby. I can’t stop wishing that I could catch her, hold her, cradle her tiny and infinitely precious life, kiss her toes and tickle her knees and breathe the sweetness of the back of her baby’s neck. Warm her and rescue her and hide her away.
I of course can do none of those things.
The real tragedy is that her mother, her mother can’t, either.
When feel that, actually feel that, a millisecond’s worth, I wish for a flickering moment I could quit this world that I love.
What do we do with this pain?