“trusting the unseen connection between us, I could walk much more confidently in the dark”Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World
It’s not only our secret desires and aspirations that we attempt to make manifest in the world, it’s also the formless cloud of our inner darkness and turmoil that we try to render tangible. Maria Popova says that “The longing to give shape to all that troubles and animates us is one of the most powerful human longings”. The invisible forces of angst and agitation are also the unseen energies that cause us to ignite, that turn the endless wheel of beginning and beginning again. We are haunted by an apparition of the very thing that makes us so alive. And, as Popova goes on to say “there is something…enticing and clarifying in making visible to the eye that which the soul alone can see.” It’s not only helpful, it’s necessary. This, David Dark explains, is the purpose of art, and the task of the artist; “to give the airy nothing…a local habitation”. It is the willingness to reach into the wounded void of shadowed traces hovering over even our brightest places, and to incarnate the wafting forms of pain into something that speaks.
Frederick Buechner says that “pain makes strangers of us all”. It’s true that most of the pain goes unnoticed. That it pulls us from the public eye so that it can better pull us apart in private. It’s true that most of our cries of agony and anguish are silent. That our tongues go still in the too loud echo chamber of ‘self’ and ‘I’, recoiled in sadness and suffering. We cease to feel the pain only because it fills the spaces that surround us, and the pain starts to feel us. It starts to feel for us. There is a distancing rift to be sure, but the estrangement needn’t make us strangers. There is a mutuality within the experience of pain. A shared tendency. A tendency to close up, close down, and keep quiet, yes, but there is also a deeper kinship and camaraderie available too; if we are open and aware, if we are brave enough to bring what lives in the dark closer to the light. To take the pain and pour it into porcelain casts.
When we can heat the hurt until it thickens, when we can turn the ache into clay, when we can mold it until it takes a shape, we discover that our own pain closely mirrors that of the world’s. We find that we may be that part of the world that mirrors its pain back to itself. That corner of the cosmos that comes to know itself through its pain. That piece of the universe arising to an understanding of its identity as a being in pain. “We…become the grief of the world”, Nick Cave says, and we discover that “the common agent that binds us all together is loss”, sorrow, anguish, pain. This is when compassion becomes possible, when humanity happens.
Make no mistake, many things that are broken can’t be mended. Some things once spilled, whether intentionally or not, can’t be put back. But we can find ways to make the exhaustion utter-able. We can give the nothingness a name. We can write. We can create. We can make things. We can make hope. We can make an aspect of the pain pronounceable. We can have a semblance of power over it. We can better see the pain in ourselves. We can better see it in the world. “We reach out and find each other in the common darkness”, Nick Cave says, and then, we start to heal, together.
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