This Day Brought Me to Tears

“We speak loudly but no one understands us.
But we are not surprised
For we are speaking the language
That will be spoken tomorrow.”

~ Horst Bienek, from “Resistance” (trans. Michael Mead)

Everything is making me cry today. My heart feels so exposed. Like I took off my armor and left it somewhere. Like I spun the prayer wheel so fast it didn’t give me time to worry about doing it right.

David Tennant’s face throughout this surprise tribute.

Bashō (translated by Robert Bly):

The temple bell stops–
but the sound keeps coming 
out of the flowers 

My kid’s fear about a trip without her parents, and the big sign she placed in her suitcase (after she emptied it out this morning) that didn’t mince words: I’M NOT GOING. Please.

Questions like: Who would I be without my work? Without my writing? Without my people? Without “my”?

Would I know, deep down, my worth?

Mani’s words:

“You can’t receive when you have clenched fists.”

Open your hands. Open your mind. Open your heart.

“The best-laid plans are are my open hands.”

(Which Mani can’t remember if she heard in a song or if she wrote herself.)

This song.

The way our names contain us — and how we can find either comfort in being held in, or the courage to push beyond the limitations of those syllables and the energy they carry.

I am not surprised if you don’t understand. I might be speaking tomorrow’s language already. I might have wondered if tomorrow’s language would ever come or if I’d be stuck speaking the same sentences over and over for all time. But no. Time won’t have it. The hardest things shapeshift as surely as the sun is melting the snow. And they also bring clarity, in the way fire burns and purifies but is impossibly hot to stand near for long. You won’t think you can stand it, but you can.

You can.

“I will write in words of fire. I will write them on your skin. I will write about desire. Write beginnings, write of sin. You’re the book I love the best, your skin only holds my truth, you will be a palimpsest lines of age rewriting youth. You will not burn upon the pyre. Or be buried on the shelf. You’re my letter to desire: And you’ll never read yourself. I will trace each word and comma As the final dusk descends, You’re my tale of dreams and drama, Let us find out how it ends.” ~ Neil Gaiman

The last big cry I remember was in the fall. I remember because I cried in the car all the way to the base of a small mountain, then parked and walked furiously uphill over leaves so deep and wet they decomposed before my eyes giving way to earth and winter coming. I remember because I reached the peak and looked out over the river and the valley and felt my dry cheeks and the relief of burning off the tears and getting some perspective.

Then last night I lost it, which isn’t true if you read it literally. I didn’t lose a thing. I just stood at the kitchen sink with the hot water on my hands, blood from where the potato peeler nicked the nail on my left middle finger, and the soapy sponge and the glasses and plates from a late dinner. And I didn’t lose anything, really. But I did cry. I started and I couldn’t stop right away — clearly this had been sitting there, just when I’d begun wondering if I’d ever cry again, a faint hint of concern cropping up that I don’t cry more often given the state of the world.

Well no worries. I can still cry. This is good, even if it freaked my kids out a little. (“Are you OKAY??”)

Last night, lying in bed, Mani put her hands on my back. Then she said just the right words, which she has a knack for: We aren’t here to save each other. We don’t need saving. We all come in with our karma and no one can burn if for us but us.

Then you love people and things get sticky sometimes; it is so painful to see someone you love suffering and to not know the answer. But there’s a reason you don’t know the answer. Your love is enough. It doesn’t feel like enough. It feels all wrong; surely you should be DOING something and the impulse to DO something is the same thing as the impulse to FIX it, SAVE THEM, make it BETTER.

There’s no saving.

So my heart is open and I cried and today, right now, I look out the kitchen window and the branches of the pine trees are swaying in the breeze. The sun is strong, and I’m surprised to glance at the clock and see that it’s after 4:00pm. The earth is turning and the seasons are changing and this is one of those moments when I can SEE time. And how bendable it is, and how it both requires so much faith and also none at all. All at the same time.

“We can know a lot. And still no doubt, there are rash and wonderful ideas brewing somewhere; there are many surprises yet to come.” ~ Mary Oliver

The mind loves to catastrophize. To seize the moment but not in a carpe diem kind of way, more like in a we’re-so-fucked kind of way. But it is a lie. A trap. Don’t fall for it, I tell myself. We no more know that things will be awful than we do that Mary Oliver’s “rash and wonderful ideas” are brewing and surprises are yet to come. Good surprises.

You want to write? So write.

You want to cry? So cry.

You want to love? So open your heart and know that it will break over and over and over and over.

And you will hug someone you love so tightly and suddenly your two bodies will be the shape of sky, which of course is impossible to imagine but perfectly reasonable in the ways of being.

After the fire, you will feel cleaner somehow, and heightened of senses. A bird in the morning will tell you winter is just a word, and you’ll spit out those two syllables with your toothpaste while the shower’s running and you’re standing there naked in the small bathroom looking at all that grey hair around your temples.

Time is not passing us nor are we passing time. Young people will be grown adults someday, full-bodied and with memories of their own, and someday we — you and I — will be the memories themselves. Long, long after we’re gone.

So yes. This day has brought me to tears. Because of love. Because of how empty-handed I feel sometimes. Because of how unbearably beautiful it is to be alive.

16 thoughts on “This Day Brought Me to Tears

  1. daniel says:

    Jena—i am finding it hard to breath after the deep real emotional spiritual and so human things you wrote. it helps me so much to hear how you face this hardest of truths as i am facing something hard now and drawn to that same “what can i do” push,,,,,,,we don’t know….and i am stunned with the truth and beauty of what Mani says: “You can’t receive when you have clenched fists.” i think it means we must wait, with all the openness there is for us to see what light will come……and know we will see where our path is to continue….thank you so much for this, my friend….


  2. Dana says:

    “There’s a reason you don’t know the answer. Your love is enough.” Oh YES. We want to fix pain so badly, and sometimes love doesn’t feel like enough, but it is, it can be, it has to be. Needed this today. xo


  3. cathykal says:

    To even begin to describe my past week, and the ups and downs, and realizations about love and relationships, and just… just all of it… would take too many words. So I’ll edit it down and simply say:

    perfect timing and exactly what I needed to read!

    Because I bet somehow you’ll know exactly what I mean.

    Thank you, Jena.


    • daniel says:

      i want to add, CATHYKAL, your writing: “To even begin to describe my past week, and the ups and downs, and realizations about love and relationships, and just…just all of it”…..helped me realize how much i’m in the same boat with love and relationship and “just all of it”……..i am beginning to move into a realization of the great value of Jena writing with us, showing her life with us, falling down with us, pulling herself up—with us…..and the courage it’s given me to do all these things—-because she has the courage to do them…’s meant so much to me……and Jena is such a special find in this world of critical people who will gladly lay off their opinions on you or live like they are not alive and not tell their truth……….i’m trying to get my writing closer to my real life (now, as close as possible) and getting more fully human…..thank you for your comment, CATHYKAL, because it brought me to realize these things about myself….


  4. Melinda says:

    I understand this language you speak, and it tugs at the places I stuff my Poet soul inside so she can hide. Thank you for continually making space for her, for all the hers. Thank you for minding if we silence ourselves. Thank you for reminding all the hers and the his(es) too that we are here to sing.


  5. Kristi Campbell says:

    I love this Jena. So much. These days, it’s so damn easy to get lost in the wanting to DO SOMETHING RIGHT NOW between the doings of the somethings right now… and this, because it’s so true: “unbearably beautiful it is to be alive.” <3


  6. Diane says:

    I have re read this several times over the last week – I need to keep reminding myself that I can’t always fix things or make it better – thanks for that Jena



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