It is a wonderful thing, to know your place in the world and to fully inhabit it. Very good things stem from taking up your space. I’ve put together some of the people and places who do this so well on my ‘inspired by’ page. To this I must add, Olympians…
In the Olympics this year, and I write this as the Paralympics just has started (so there will no doubt be more to follow), we glimpse from our living rooms the wonder and complexity of humanity. We are witness to triumphs and disasters. Some athletes faced both across the competition. Some athletes had known triumph before but met with disaster now, others had the opposite experience. And faced again the challenge of poet Rudyard Kipling
If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the sameKipling ‘If’
All of these athletes had worked hard to be there, or they would not have got to such a formidable world stage. However most remarkable was how each athlete met with these experiences for themselves and for their team mates. There was enormous power in their encounter. There was no hiding. Their true character came through, and for better or worse, we saw their true colours. Sport is like this, as is art, as is music, and theatre, throwing spotlights on the human condition.
And watching this brought to mind a kind of mantra to add to the treasure trove.
‘What stops you living your life like a painful and beautiful day in the story of an immense pregnancy?’
By Rainer Maria Rilke in his book ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ these lines are contained within a greater paragraph
‘Why not think, rather, that He is the one who is coming, moving toward us from all Eternity, the final fruit of a tree whose leaves we are? What stops you from projecting God’s birth into times to come and from living your life like a painful and beautiful day in the story of an immense pregnancy?… as bees gather honey so do we reap the sweetness from everything and so build God’
Exactly this. ‘What stops you living your life like a painful and beautiful day in the story of an immense pregnancy?’
There are as many responses to that as there are minds that read those words. What stops us?
At the same time no answers come easily because perhaps the question is supposed to be lived.
Nevertheless mindsets prevent this, like thinking too much, or too little of ourselves. Either mindset stops us living our painful and beautiful days by distracting us with either grandiose ideas of ourselves, or belittling ourselves entirely. Ends of a spectrum that are so compelling in how polarising they are and disproportionate in how they come to be valued above and beyond most other human experiences. Misplaced value, for are any of us really entirely defined by hitting or missing a home run?
Of course not. No one ever makes just a singular contribution to the world.
Like they say in the film Cool Runnings ‘if you are not enough without a gold medal, you will never be enough with it’.
The pain and the beauty are held together. As poet Mary Oliver writes, ‘
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.
Singer songwriter Pink sings about this too, ‘All I know so far’
I wish someone would have told me that this darkness comes and goes
People will pretend but baby girl, nobody knows
And even I can't teach you how to fly
But I can show you how to live like your life is on the line
You throw your head back, and you spit in the wind
Let the walls crack, 'cause it lets the light in
Let 'em drag you through hell
They can't tell you to change who you are
That's all I know so far
And when the storm's out, you run in the rain
Put your sword down, dive right into the pain
Stay unfiltered and loud, you'll be proud of that skin full of scars
That's all I know so far
‘you’ll be proud of that skin full of scars’. When I first heard the song I mis-heard this line, I thought she sang ‘you’ll be proud of that skin full of stars’, which could be equally true. Skin that will run out and feel the pouring rain, (as my friend will tell you is one of my favourite things), so we know we are alive. Rain and stars and scars that let us know we are part of something much much greater, an immense pregnancy which we cannot see. All that is asked of us is to turn up, live the questions and know our place as full inhabitants of the painful and beautiful day gifted to us.