If You Knew
What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.
When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.
A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.
How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?
~ Ellen Bass, from The Human Line (2007)
Watch and listen to Ellen Bass read “If You Knew,” here.
“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are, when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved, and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed, and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time…
… It’s like wearing gloves every time we touch something, and then, forgetting we chose to put them on, we complain that nothing feels quite real.
In this way, our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world, but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold, and the car handle feels wet, and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being, soft and unrepeatable.”
~ Mark Nepo (2011), The Book of Awakening, p. 158
This being a human is a messy business. We’re born into lives we didn’t choose, with bodies and brains programmed by thousands of years of evolution to act in ways we may never fully understand, into a world that is constantly in flux. This gorgeous mind of ours has the astounding capacity to time travel – a phenomenon that is both a blessing and a curse as it gives us a portal to visit our pasts and imagine our futures by the same means that it can cause us to get stuck there. The terrain of our inner experiences can be as frightening as it is enlivening, our emotions as immeasurably deep with joy as pain, while our outer experiences rarely provide any ground more stable.
And yet, amidst this uncertainty – amidst the awkward, clumsy, difficult task of navigating a world, brain, and body without a compass – we laugh. We share; we connect. …Keep Reading!