There I was, sitting with a group of people who were of mostly as old, or older, than I was. I was delighted to be among them. We were just completing a kind of introduction process that entailed each person saying their name and then a little bit about what gives their lives meaning. I had been expecting the process to be long and tedious, full of reports, but it turned into something else, a moment of depth, of heart, of struggles engaged in for us all. I came to the discovery that the room was populated by people who were really living, really experiencing this compelling mystery we call life. I said, and I experienced it vividly, I was sitting in a true circle of elders.
There are many things that touched me as I felt the people around me. I could feel the creativity, compassion, commitment, humor, passion and wisdom of those I heard, that delighted me, and lit me up with expectancy, but what moved me the most, what made this train wreck feel at home, was how much suffering had carved wisdom into us. This piece of writing comes out of the experience, verified in the circle, that wounds, no matter how painful and debilitating, are sacred, gifts of unimaginable fury, beauty and spiritual potency.
What I found amazing is, that this group knows that. Between deaths of loved ones, losses to the ravages of cancer, heart disease, stroke, or financial uncertainty, blossomed the most incredible appreciation for life, other humans and especially the young ones coming along. There was much to feel lucky about, much to wonder about, much to feel awed by. If I had been truly free, old enough to be inappropriate, I would have done the most appropriate thing. I would have, now I wish I had, cried. My tears would have signified an acceptance of what I have tried so hard to accept, that human suffering has a place, and that place is in the wizened heart.
Wounds open and sensitize us. Scars remind us. Warrior marks embolden us, they confirm that hurting is part of the way, and that going forward means hurting purposely. This kind of wisdom can only be found through running the gauntlet (an old Native American rite of passage for warriors), but being amongst a circle of people who know about this rite of passage, even obliquely, because they have endured it, is deeply sustaining. Hurt becomes a strange and compelling miracle, a privileged brokenness.
I don’t know that I understand the relationship between suffering and wisdom. Maybe I’ll learn more about this unbearable miracle in that circle. I just know there is one, and that I want to embrace it, so I can be as compassionate and as wise as these times need me to be. I have my own wounds, scars, and warrior marks, I haven’t come to terms with them all, now I know, in a way I didn’t know before, that each is a fountain, not only of brokenness and shame, but of dignity and heart wisdom. If I gain nothing else, and I expect more surprises to come, the elder circle has touched me in a place tender and dark, and awakened a sleeping chunk of my soul.
All of this thought about the miracles associated with brokenness reminds me of a poem I collected several years ago from a woman who lived on the street.
There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
A shatteredness out of which blooms the unshatterable.
There is a sorrow
Beyond all grief which leads to joy
And a fragility
Out of which depth emerges strength.
There is a hollow space
Too vast for words
Through which we pass with each loss,
Out of whose darkness we are sanctified into being.
There is a cry deeper than all sound
Whose serrated edges cut the heart
As we break open
To the place inside which is unbreakable
I’m savvy enough to know that everyone doesn’t get to the wholing miracle that underlies wounds, some people just end-up bitter, feeling like their lives have been interrupted by tragedy, feeling like something is wrong. I know this place. I live there sometimes too. But, for this moment, in this circle of elders, I knew it didn’t have to be only this way. Being wounded, scarred, and carrying warrior marks is a sign of living, loving and caring, and being intact, enough to hurt about it all. Given the choice, and this experience convinced me I could choose, I would rather carry the marks of this life, and appreciate what is passing so quickly.