People have traditionally turned to ritual to help them frame and acknowledge and ultimately even find joy in just such a paradox of being human – in the fact that so much of what we desire for our happiness and need for our survival comes at a heavy cost. We kill to eat, we cut down trees to build our homes, we exploit other people and the earth. Sacrifice – of nature, of the interests of others, even of our earlier selves – appears to be an inescapable part of our condition, the unavoidable price of all our achievements. A successful ritual is one that addresses both aspects of our predicament, recalling us to the shamefulness of our deeds at the same time it celebrates what the poet Frederick Turner calls “the beauty we have paid for with our shame.” Without the double awareness pricked by such rituals, people are liable to find themselves either plundering the earth without restraint or descending into self-loathing and misanthropy.
― Michael Pollan, A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder
Children have a lesson adults should learn, to not be ashamed of failing, but to get up and try again. Most of us adults are so afraid, so cautious, so ‘safe,’ and therefore so shrinking and rigid and afraid that it is why so many humans fail. Most middle-aged adults have resigned themselves to failure.
Life cracks us into unrecognizable shards of former incarnations. Slivers of our hurt and our pain and our shame nestles next to fragments of our truth, our divinity, our fierce reclamation of power.
It is this very brokenness that allows us to knit together, kaleidoscope style. And we spin and shift and turn to the light until we appear brilliant, lit from within. Suddenly we are revealed; unexpected beauty born directly from brokenness.
And he came to understand that the burial of the broken wasn’t eccentric — this was what people did every day, stuffing their brokenness down, pushing it down, smoothing the surface over, making the surface look like nothing was broken underneath. Because, if people see that you are broken, they will not want to stand with you. They will migrate away from you the way groups of people walking down the street will move aside when a shambling ranting man approaches. They will look at the ground and look away so that such a person becomes invisible.
We all have struggles in our lives, areas in which we are lacking. Why are some of us so resilient?
This is the first of three poems which were commissioned by Houston Grand Opera for Houston Artists Respond, based on videos from Baker Ripley Community Center in Houston, Texas. I selected the stories of three women who immigrated to the United States from Latin America and interwove their experience with my feelings.
This poem tells the tale of a woman from Nicaragua who received her first pair of shoes at the age of sixteen, a hand-me-down from her mother’s employer. Never did a pair of plastic shoes bring about such joy, although that joy was laced with trial, as you will see. Nubia’s humor and strength of character are inspiring. How many of us, who I daresay have enjoyed more advantages, are as grateful as she is?
Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.