Many years ago my dear friend Harold worked by day in the Cambodian refugee camps doing AIDS education. These camps were places of horror. At night the Khmer Rouge would raid the camp of young boys and men, killing or recruiting. Harold had a friend, a Buddhist nun, who also worked in the camps. One day he asked her, How can you stand witnessing what is going on here? She replied, Only by returning such horror with a love equally as great. He told me this story when he gifted me a drum with a python skin head which had been made in the camp as a way to raise funds.
There are those whose willingness to witness the suffering in the world has this kind of transformative power. My friend and colleague, poet Leah Shelleda, is one of those, and her newly published book of poems, some her own, some of other esteemed women poets, The Book of Now: Poetry for the Rising Tide, attests to this. Buddhist student Sandra Lee is another. Sandra served as a Red Cross volunteer during the Viet Nam war, and her meditative work to witness the suffering and heal the wounds it inflicted upon her— and upon the human race— strengthens even those of us who are lucky enough to know her.
Suffering has the effect of tearing open the human heart. It is with some courage that we witness what is beyond human imagination. This time of the dark may we all have that courage, our only hope for healing and for Return of the Light.
Winter Solstice Eve, 2012
Thank you for beating the snakeskin drum stained in blood from the killing fields
Thank you for beating the rhythm of heart your willingness to witness the unbearable
Under dark sky punctuated with stories of the ages we hear— thump-thump
thump-thump re-membering we are one in suffering— and in ecstasy