Quote from Etty Hillesum and Synchronicity

“People sometimes say, ‘you must try to make the best of things.’  I find this such a feeble thing to say.  Everywhere things are both very good and very bad at the same time.  The two are in balance, everywhere and always.  I never have the feeling that I have got to make the best of things, everything is fine just as it is.  Every situation, however miserable, is complete in itself and contains the good as well as the bad — all I really wanted to say is this: ‘making the best of things’ is a nauseating expression, and so is ‘seeing the good in everything.’

She is writing this is Westerbork, a transit camp from which people were sent to Auschwitz.

Synchronicity — I was looking for a quote in Ritual Year, and when I opened Spring it was at this entry in May, titled “Real life is bigger than happiness.”  The writing is from May 93, when I’m having a bad time with the airplanes.  The full entry is here.

Do I want to leave this world — the world of goldfinches and apple blossoms — has it become “unspeakably dear”?  Or is it still a place of horror — a rotting corpse under the apple tree, and death-dealing planes sending daggers of pain through my heart — a world I would be glad to leave?  The truth is that it is both at the same time, and I am torn apart by the contrasts.

I offer myself to this process.  By an act of will I set myself to believe that there is meaning here, that the forces that tear me apart are divine, that the purpose is transformation.  Only by being eaten and digested does the mouse become eagle.

I feel a pain in my heart, enormous pain — I am afraid to give myself over to it for fear I would be ripped apart and die, and at the same time a part of me invalidates the pain: “Who are you to be unhappy?  A lot of people would like to have your life.”  “Why don’t you choose to be happy?”  “You’re just wallowing in your pain.”

And I say no, this is real life.  Real life is bigger than happiness.  Real life is to be torn apart by the contrasts.  There are corpses under all the apple trees, if you choose not to see them, then what do you have?  Mourning and rejoicing are both appropriate, death and life are inextricably mingled in the tapestry, you have to accept it all, or you get nothing.  “This beauty comes out of a great heart.”  Yes.  And that heart is open to include everything.

Later: I lost that glorious & painful sense of wholeness, that sense of holding together the two halves of the world: the corpse and the blossoming tree.  It occurred to me driving to St. Johnsbury that all the soil is made up of corpses, the decayed dead bodies of bugs, animals, plants, that all the grasses and blossoming trees are rooted in corpses.  And it occurred to me that the enormous sweet pain I feel tearing my heart open is love, love for the tree and for the corpse, love for life which is inseparable from death.

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