The “Gift” of Life

I am doing a Retreat with the Courage and Renewal folks. It’s called “Tending to Our Grief in Autumn” and is similar to the one I did in person in Burlington last January.  Except that this one had to be on Zoom, and the leaders were in Denver and New York City.  The schedule, instead of being a weekend, was a few hours on Friday, November 13, 6 hours on Saturday, November 14, and 6 hours on Saturday, November 21.

In one typical exercise we were given a poem and some prompts, asked to write or draw or whatever for five minutes, and then share in a small breakout group.  Here is the poem and what I wrote.

The Thing Is  by ELLEN BASS

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you down like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

From my journal for Saturday, November 14

Courage & Renewal Retreat:
Be present with who I am right now: exhausted, sad,
close to tears
Saying “Yes” to life     ??  It’s like God.   Love life even
when it’s hard
Write or draw: what roots you, sustains you?      anchors you

Right now?  well the Stivell an dro and the landscape of Lewis/Callanish.  But I’m really having trouble with the poem by Ellen Bass ending with saying “yes” to life. 

It feels like being asked to be grateful for the “gift” of life    — it wasn’t a gift.  It came to me smashed.  It came to me with the expectation that I would cure my mother’s pain.  I never felt that my life was mine to do what I want to with.  It felt like I had to prove that I deserved it.  That’s not a gift.  That’s a bribe.  And it’s a bribe to be something I’m not.  I refuse to do that.  I refuse to be the person my mother wanted. a sycophant, who would tell her how wonderful she was, praise and believe her lies, never ask anything from her.

I read the last paragraph to two young women with a lot of fierce anger.

“An dro” is a Breton dance.
My problem with the “gift” of life is the same as my problem with “God.”  With trauma conditioning, the Universe is malevolent, Life is meaningless, and the self is unworthy.

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