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Posted in Adventures With Humans

Round Bales

A friend and I met up at a local folksy country store, the mid-point between our homes. We didn’t find each other immediately, and in the meantime I watched people filling their grocery carts, and likened the place to ground-zero for diabetes. “You’re going to eat that?” my asshole-self wanted to ask. My friend found me before I tried to convert some poor bastard to keto like a fervent broccoli evangelist. The café seating area had not reopened since Covid, so I grabbed a coffee and my friend and I sat in the front of her car instead. We talked, looking out through the windshield onto a sleepy lawn, newly exposed after the season under its’ snowy duvet. There were picnic benches, a couple round bales, and then a house farther off. A man walked his black lab. A woman sat smoking at one of the benches; the day sunny with a cool breeze. We didn’t talk about any of these things.

I met my friend in a suicide support group that I joined in 2023. She had joined after the trauma of her husband’s suicide, and had been helping to facilitate the group for some time. My father’s suicide was in 2004, but I had felt compelled to finally seek community; I needed people who could feel deeply, who spoke the language of this grief. In discussion, my friend and I found more in common than the pinned moments of our particular losses; there were childhood traumas involving parents dropping the ball in remarkable ways. My events were things I’ve already written about; my father’s first suicide attempt when I was nine, bookended by my two over-the-top, almost out-of-control outbursts triggered by parents who should have known better. My friend suffered parental failings, but on a completely different scale.

It is in the second half of life when people show their true character. First-half challenges are either faced to be healed, or denied out of fear: My friend sat like the best person, there in the driver’s seat of the car, wearing a post-cancer treatment cap, but with a truly vibrant spark. She told me about her childhood, a brutal beginning under parents broken from the aftermath of the war, and angry at everything it seemed. I don’t understand how anyone could harm a child, could unleash hand and muscle to beat and bruise; anger meant for fists clenched towards God, not rained down on pure innocence; a child full of her birthright’s eagerness to thrive; instinctually and rightfully shocked to be so unloved. Then, for the beatings to continue and for the mother to do nothing through the years, neither parent taking responsibility for, I don’t know–‘abuse’ falls short. How about 'complete betrayal of the human contract.' Philosophies about ‘leaning into what life offers,’ were not written for children. There was never supposed to be this kind of story.

We both listened to each other, and acknowledged aloud that absolute sacredness of listening. Both of us, well-read, shared research on childhood trauma, and how the brain changes under overwhelming stresses. We both spoke of our decades-long, textbook feelings of low self-worth, and wondered at the mystery of whatever that ‘thing’ was that kept us going. Perhaps it was a potential planted by ancestors, that we would be able to find our balance, and share wisdom down the line. Or did nature itself need something to endure so it chose us? In his book, ‘Eternal Echoes,’ John O'Donohue wrote, “your longing desires to take you towards the absolute realization of all the possibilities that sleep in the clay of your heart; it knows your eternal potential, and it will not rest until it is awakened.” Neither of us called it ‘longing,’ but we both acknowledged a kind of mystical knowing that subtly kept us showing up. We both spoke of deeply sad moments–wishing time wasn’t such a prick and that we could have our loved ones back, and more so, our childhoods. We both shook our fists at the generation that put us here, too arrogant and careless to take responsibility for all of that fuckery, as if we were to blame for having been around to have suffered it; our struggle, a dismissible inconvenience.

“And what is with all of this suffering in the world?” we wondered. “Why, damnit?” Yet the heart beats through it all, love and pain. I imagine the heart of a villain beating begrudgingly, continuing only in hopes that he faces his own terror, repents and seeks grace. In ‘Holy the Firm,’ Annie Dillard wrote, “By what freak chance does the skin of illusion ever split, and reveal to us the real, which seems to know us by name, and by what freak chance and why did the capacity to prehend it evolve?”  Wild animals don’t mistreat each other. What is with us? It is only humans that need meaning in life, and now in this un-ensouled universe, we sloppily wind it around God to take some of the pressure off, so we can look away and deny blame. Worse, we are just data.

Despite this, my friend and I love the world, and are oddly grateful for what we have learned. My wish is that present generations stop mindlessly perpetuating the cycle of untreated brokenness, that we take responsibility instead of looking away. Maybe stop, drop, and feel into your deeper self. Get a therapist if you have to, but dedicate yourself to finding the real you, tethered down there in your guts. Feel deeply and get to healing whatever yearns for it. Cry over something for god’s sake–let yourself be vulnerable; that’s a superpower, not a weakness. Do it now, so the words under the dash line aren’t, “‘Made No Attempt.” Dillard again, wrote, “Of faith I have nothing, only of truth: that this one God is a brute and a traitor, abandoning us to time, to necessity and the engines of matter unhinged.” There is fitting fury in her words.

 Maybe the reason for suffering is that in the healing of it, you find your soul. We come into this world with it, but then lose track like in some kind of bad game. I get mad when I think of the pain others experience at the hands of fools who don’t think past their own shadows. There is nothing to it but to persist, to stick whatever it is to the thing–the sticking place, and consider descendants as they are, sacred and deserving of our best.