Christian Collins CC
Wilfred Bion once wrote that whenever two people meet, an emotional storm occurs. The more of us there are, the more storms to learn and tend our way through. If we can learn from our experiences with one another, if we can be in our bodies and in our hearts when we go through this storm country as complicated people gathered together in a single place (whether Twitter, a train car, the grocery line) then we can find better ways to be together that help soften emotional storms, that usher in a kind of messy and complicated joy. We each have a choice; to make a storm worse, or to soften its edges.
Make peace. The accent is on action. To make, to intend peace. To tend towards. Of course, as most of us know, the enactment is easier, safer, predictable. If I know the outcome beforehand then I cannot be surprised by the world, or the people in it. I saw that coming. For trauma survivors, such predictability is paramount. The slings and arrows of life will inevitably trigger old geographies of hurt, of abandon, of abuse. And yet not everything we go through is mere repetition. There is novelty in a wound.
Creativity opens a portal through the familiar into the unknown. Once we start from that place, something else begins to happen. We become curious again in the world, in people, their complexity, their difference, their depth, and their limitations, which are also ours. Perhaps there are just as many common threads that run through us as there are stray ones. We can’t know what will happen. And that is scary, and not just for those of us who haven’t had it easy.
It feels important to build spaces where we can learn from our experiences with storm-travel, with damaged bonds, and the deep lines etched by trauma. Group therapy feels like a model that ought to be liberated from a single room and into the world at large. Can we bear it? Probably not. Is that a good enough reason to not even try? No. We are called to meet the challenge of so many things in this life that may come to naught in the end. Beckett says; to fail better. To feel our failure, and our hearts opening, in the midst of storm, to reach for the stray thread, that no less than the most common, binds us to one another, to pull on it and watch the known unravel into the unknown.
This is hard work. We are hard workers, you and I. Our hearts are on the line. We all come to it late, I’m afraid. The deeper story takes time, the one thing we don’t have much of. We chip away at it, everything that happened to us, until a new place begins to take shape inside of us. I believe we each have a place in the world. A seat waiting for us at the human table. Not everyone does. Believe it. The stakes feel high, because they are. I am not naive enough to think we can all get along, but we can learn how to struggle better with each other, and ourselves, than we do now.
Every community I’ve ever been a part of has been fraught with dysfunction: religion, recovery, activism, poetry, we all have our own list. The common thread that runs through them is fear. We are afraid to meet the storms inside of us that allow us to meet the storms inside each other more fully, more freely.
Michael Eigen writes, of the dysfunction of his own community, psychotherapy:
“I wish I could declare the therapy wars over, but they flourish in new old ways. I wish a prevailing attitude could be that we each make our contribution in our own way, different hands on the elephant, different ways of trying to help. Let’s stop tearing each other down and see what we contribute to the common pool. Society needs more of a partnership attitude overall.”
I wish I could declare the literary wars over, but they flourish like the perennial problems that have been with us for so long we can’t even begin to locate their beginning. It’s imperative that there be places where we can meet each other halfway. In song, dance, anger, fear, shame, joy, rage, softness, mercy. A place for it all, and for everybody. Such places are rare and hard to maintain. They are fail-better stations along the way to more. Everytime we check an impulse to overstack someone else’s arms with all the world’s failings, and our own historical wounds, we are learning from experience, holding place in our hearts, and our bodies, for that “deeper well” Daniel Lanois sings about.
Ours is a story of failure meeting renewal. A renewed failure? Why not? Some people fail to fail. Is there anything worse than a deluded sense of having succeeded in avoiding life’s slings and arrows? We must take the hits. True believers are mercy warriors. We intend toward mercy. We make peace through our failure to. Isn't that something? What failing-better means is “step into it.” Feel it in your body. Locate it inside your story. And in others. But of course, better to fail together than alone.
We are not alone. Here, in this brief moment, our many glorious, embodied failures, our “stumblings toward grace” (Oh EmmyLou) become something more. Shh. Can you hear it? Mercy calling. Hello heart, I know well your voice. And yours and yours and yours.
“There are big problems, big world problems,” Michael Eigen writes, “and we have just a tiny little drum. I have this stupid idealistic streak that if you help someone a little bit at least you’re not adding to the damage. And maybe that person will help someone a little bit. But it’s a little bit. I think it’s important not to get too depressed about it but to value little bits… Many more bad than good inside, but the little good objects go a long way. So whatever specks of good there is, honor that speck. We need you to keep working. Most of our personalities are pretty nasty. We want things our way. If you don’t do it my way I’ll wipe you out. But we have little specks of goodness and those specks make a difference…
Judaism has a saying, if you save one person you save the world. Pretty dramatic, no? But after looking horror in the face, even Goethe and Voltaire emphasize tending your garden. Perhaps the one person you save will be yourself and that will add to everyone you touch.”
Eigen goes on to talk of wanting to give the other a softer voice, of one’s hand going involuntarily to one’s heart when confronted with another’s coldness. Don't you know, I've felt it too. May we each take up our “tiny little drum” and fail our way better into the big world problems. Perhaps that something greater that we sometimes feel ourselves in service to is but each other. Can we hold the rose and appreciate the thorns? Every last one of us is a thorny rose growing-up from the same damn ground. Look around, all these weeds too, us, all of us.
The life we save is our own. But it adds something to the garden. It matters. Even with such a tiny drum, and all the pain in the world… that we gather like this, and fail-better, towards our singular, and shared forms of mercy.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.