broken open-hearted birthday meditation

Oh, baby. Poor, sweet baby. I am looking at photographs from Haiti, and there is one picture, a child who reminds me so much of Pearlie, Pearl when she is hurt, scared, confused and utterly needing her mama. This child had a bandage on her head and blood on her face and an expression that makes me cry, her plump little hands draped over someone’s back.

Every mother, every child. Oh, my heart breaks.

Today is my birthday, my 36th. I have been showered with love.

I am amazed at the world’s capacity to hold so many simultaneous realities, scales large and small, the experience of each individual a whole world, each day a whole life, impossible to judge. Devastation on any scale is inconceivable, but not to those affected. To them, conceiving is not a choice. This is reality, their world destroyed, buried. I may write about these things, but they are emotional, or metaphors for shifting experience.

But then I know: there is no “them,” no “us.” It is a matter of timing, location, weather, luck, karma, fate, race, class, creed or chance. Pick your moment in history or location in the world; any of us could be anyone, anywhere.

Nobody is above or below. Everything is leveled. We cannot compare suffering.

As my friend Miv said during our spontaneous birthday coffee date this morning, we feel it. When our hearts are open to our own pain, we feel the suffering of the world without defenses, without fabricated layers separating “us” from “them.”

No, there is no us, no them, no me, no you, no Pearl, no Haitian girl, nameless to me but not to the many people who love her just as I am, you are, so loved. I can make my donations and send my prayers and that is all. What can be enough when we are all so small?

I take a deep breath. I am basking in this day, my birthday, the tippy-top of the Ferris wheel of my year, letting in the love and then exhaling that love right back out into the rubble, an uninterrupted circle of breath.

It would be so easy to feel guilty – who am I to have such ease and comfort? It would be easy to feel confused – what is this world that can hold such loss? But neither of these comes from the heart, neither is true.

Only the aching, the recognition of another child’s face, the empathy and eyes of seeing, seeing clearly into the shared human experience, the shared human experience of us all – only this is real, only this is true.

Give what you can. And give thanks.

6 thoughts on “broken open-hearted birthday meditation

  1. Lisa says:

    Oh my goodness…you mirror my thoughts. This was expressed in a stunning manner – I can only hope each reader taps into the shared human experience, the realities that are our own not by physical proximity but through our collective being.

    I just blogged on realities …but this is a much better way to sum it up!

    On a more mundane note, we were happy to find a site that listed several organizations ( including places we could donate via cell phones.

    May you have a happy and blessed birthday and enjoy the peace that is yours to feel. By being fortunate to recognize the blessings in your own life, and opening your heart to share that with others, you are doing a beautiful service to any and all in pain.


  2. Beth Patterson says:

    Love this.

    I hope you can hear this in a deep place, Jena. This poem reminds me of you.

    Kuan Yin
    by Gary Snyder

    Of the many buddhas I love best the girl
    who will not leave the cycles of pain before anyone else.
    She is not the captain declining to be saved on the sinking ship who may just want to ride her shame
    out of sight.
    She is at the brink of never being hurt again
    but she pauses to say, ‘All of us. Every blade of grass.’

    She chooses to live in the tumble of souls through time.
    Perhaps she sees spring in every country,
    talks quietly with farm women while helping lay seed.

    Our hearts are a storm she trembles at.

    I picture her leaning on a tree or humming or joining
    a volleyball game on Santa Monica beach. Her skin shines with sweat.

    The other may not (yet) know how to notice what she does to them.

    She is not a fish or a bee; it not pity or thirst; she could go, but here she is.

    Happy birthday yesterday, sweet Jena.



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