From where does one’s sense of connections to others arise? Might it be hardwired into us in some manner or place to which the conscious soul is denied access? From where does wellbeing and simply being come?
I have never been able to separate any sense of my own wellbeing from that of the suffering of all beings alongside—now, all yesterdays, all tomorrows. I cannot extricate myself from the plight of even the least creature among us: the small ants who reliably, and moments later, show up to slake their hunger on crumbs that have fallen aside on a counter or their kin who are crossing the sidewalks on which I am walking; a rattlesnake or raccoon or skunk run over on purpose by a passing motorist and writhing in pain, sometimes still in the middle of the road; a horse or dog beaten or starved or tied outside in rain or shine, sleet or hail; a child or adult going hungry or without a home while others alongside them luxuriate in fine meals and homes; a yellow-jacket and nest-mates desperate to make a home above the back door and, in most houses, being repelled with toxins; a family of woodchucks maligned unfairly for borrowing a tiny unused piece of bare underground for a nest; a bear killed for mauling an impertinent tourist and all others just like it losing their habitats to our greed; whole communities displaced by missile strikes (from actual missiles and economic ones); vibrant trees being cut down before their time because a windstorm toppled one and the village got worried about trees, and me standing next to the grand old maple that shelters my home time and time again, embracing its rough, moss-etched bark as a mother would a child and promising to stand between it and the tree-cutting crew to the bitter end and if one day it falls on my house, so be it; the children of tomorrow who will have only our wreckage (and far fewer of these grand trees) to play in, if we adults do not heed trees and the such better than our capitalist wallets and stat; the elders who are consigned to institutions in the long years of their lives, “too healthy to go ahead and die,” as one of them told me years before he finally did; the young and old alike who are cut down by bullets and racist economies and slurs long before their time.
No matter the source of the suffering or on whom it is laid, it feels personal to me, as if it were happening to my dearest loved ones, the few souls I have known better than all the rest. I weep for other parents’ children as I would for my own; I weep for adults precisely as I do for children (knowing all too well how the child remains within and on deck, even in the most aged); I weep and rage against unnecessary pain and anguish and loss, afar and close at hand alike. Time is no gallant healer for me either, for I study the long past, and its people and beings breathe again for me and, far too often, I weep for them, for their struggles and their joys. Some would say (some have actually said, in fact) that this is deeply arrogant on my part, this feeling for all bar none. That may well be so.
All I know for sure is that I never feel a moment’s relief from the need to do what I can on all fronts, even if that often means doing little more than bearing witness and not turning aside to the entertainments of forgetting. I don’t forget, you see, even when I do revel in the gloriousness of being alive, even when I have fun or laugh, even when all about me personally would appear to be not just fine but better than that by a long shot. The skin of my soul is too porous, it seems, and serves as no barrier to all that is.
But I am unclear as to how this happened, only that it has been with me since I can remember, the first instance of it one that has been repeated time and time again since: staring out of my child’s eyes to some adult or other child behaving in a cruel manner to some child or animal and, compelled by fiery rage at such injustice, launching myself into the fray to fix it. Plenty of times I did—or at least helped—but plenty of times I failed, too. Then there were the years when I myself was assailed and didn’t lift a finger to stop it, because I was aiming for a higher good and wound up contributing instead to a great multigenerational evil. And, of course, there are all the myriad sufferings for which I must stand mute and undone, utterly incapable of doing one thing except not turning away to unknowing. Perhaps how this happened is moot. Perhaps acknowledging the trait is enough to make it more manageable somehow.
Perhaps it is my life’s singular, early and enduring gift to me: this keen awareness that I am one with all that is, bar none, and thus to disown anyone else’s suffering–even to help ease my own? Would be to deny my own humanity. Would be to no longer exist. And so I embrace trees and do my deadlevel best not to step on ants and stop to assist injured animals and give every last thing I can to those who are in need. And it may be arrogant, but the moss-etched tree bark tells me that this, too, is being. And with this comfort I can and do abide.