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 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.
“The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass, from Mules of Love. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2002.
That is the thing, isn’t it? The secret, the very essence of this human life. The moment of your resurrection: To love life even when you have no stomach for it.
To say: I will love you, again.
Life is so hard and it breaks us over and over again, but we forgive and go on. Despite the mind-numbing weight of disappointment and grief for all we will never have and all we will never be.
I will take you, life, I will love you, again. It’s the again that causes my breath to catch in my chest. Yes. Again. I will get up after falling, after being brought to my knees by the crushing weight, and I will keep going. Again.
As many times as it takes until life is finished with me. It’s the again that matters. We all love life when things are going well; when everything makes sense and you feel like you finally understand and have some aptitude for getting along day by day. That’s the easy part. That’s the part where every gift is wrapped in gratitude and joy fills every fiber of your being.
Then there are the other parts. The times when it doesn’t seem possible to bear another day, another moment, another second of the pain and the slippery, twisty, unapologetic weight of ALL THAT IS WRONG. In your life, in the life of someone you love, of someone you just met or don’t know at all. Sometimes all that anguish just penetrates your skin and inhabits every cell and you stumble. You are unable to carry your heavy heart – the burden of the obesity of grief – another step. The harsh blows life deals all of us cast you to the ground and bruise your soul so deeply you don’t think you will ever rise again.
But you do. It takes time for the bruises to heal and the pain to subside, but you rise slowly, gingerly, carefully cradling your tender heart, and you go on. And in doing so you say to life, Yes, I will love you again.
You forgive life, other people, and yourself and you go on. Maybe you can set the weight aside for a while, maybe leave it behind completely, or maybe you’re still carrying it and it tires you, but you go on. You keep trying. You keep doing. You keep giving.
You offer life what’s within you – all that’s yours to give, all that you brought with you in the hope that it will be of use, be valued, be loved. Sometimes your gifts are welcomed and your dreams are realized; more often they are thrown back in your face in a most devastating way.
You rail against the rejection, the loss, the pain of being tossed aside, of being dismissed by life so casually. You close up like a flower in winter, gathering in your soft petals and tucking them deep inside your center, waiting for the return of Spring, when you will once again risk everything and bloom.
Until then, you wait. Nurture your roots in the darkness and repair the damage to your battered heart. Because you know:
will come again and you will say to your love, this life, I will take you.
Because that’s the contract. That’s the deal. What we signed up for. No good without bad, no happiness without sorrow, no gain without loss, and no renewal without death.
No courage without vulnerability.
No love without forgiveness.
No life without love.