On a makeshift altar in the corner of my kitchen, seven taper candles stand, etched with seven names: Ahrens, Castile, Krol, Smith, Sterling, Thompson, and Zamarripa. The base of each is wreathed in deep red flowers, symbolic of the blood shed. I will visit that altar every hour today to pray that these seven souls cross peacefully to a place where there is no memory of these acts of violence.
For the living, my prayers are very different today. I pray that we never forget the senselessness of these seven deaths, that we find a way to come together, to understand and value each other as fellow human beings. I pray that when faced with yet another example of the worst in people, we can reach out, not with guns drawn or fists clenched, but with open hands and hearts to each other. I pray that we never forget that each of us has the potential for actions both heroic and horrific and that we find within ourselves the wisdom to choose the former if we face circumstances in which we must decide between the two.
I don’t have answers for the problems that face us. Like some many others, I have watched with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness as the events of this week have unfolded. I seek refuge in prayer and ritual, solace in the job that I know too well – tending to the dead and their memory. All the while my mind has been on the living – the survivors, the families, and the friends who are mourning these terrible losses.
There are those who would let these deaths further divide us. There are people who will use these deaths as an excuse to perpetuate further violence. I will not be moved to hatred. I will not be moved to violence. I will stand today in silence and prayer with a heart filled with love and compassion. Today, I will remember.
Today, I swam laps across the deep end of the pool until my muscles ached. It seems like such a small thing, particularly as it only took about ten laps to leave me feeling like I’d crossed the English Channel. There was no cheering squad, no medals, no fanfare. The lack of applause didn’t stop me from feeling a sense of accomplishment.
Why is this a big deal? Why, Aisling, are you telling us that you’ve done the same thing that a few thousand other people have done today?
I have been out of the deep end for the better part of the last two years- both in the context of the pool and my practice. Physical incapacitation has kept me away from much of my normal routine, but today, I am declaring war on the pain and trepidation that was keeping me in shallow waters. I am, quiet officially, sick of being sick and of being held back. I love playing in the water, just as I love the work I do on my path.
Today I swam laps across the deep end. Tomorrow, I am doing a ritual for a friend who lost his grandfather this past week. Forget treading water, I’m diving into the deep end again.. and I couldn’t be happier to be there.
Spring is coming.
Ok, so perhaps that proclamation does not quite carry the same dramatic weight as Ned Stark’s meteorological prophecies, but there’s still an important idea somewhere in those three words. Winter has exited stage left, taking with it the deep introspection and pervasive darkness that marks the season. The stasis and stagnation of the coldest months is giving way to growth and rebirth and color is returning to nature again. It is time for the shadows to recede and for light and life to come back to us.
A personal winter seems also to be winding down and yielding slowly to spring and life renewed. In leaning into the pain during the last year, I have also leaned into shadowed and darkened places within myself. In the darkness of a long winter, there has been time to slowly take apart some things that have been troublesome and unapproachable by the light of day. I’ve had the opportunity to ask a lot of questions about the whys and hows of those bothersome issues.
The sum result of all this introspection is this – I have, in some important ways, failed myself. While I could write a volume or two about it, it can be summed up in a few salient points. The first is that I have allowed myself to let fear and guilt keep me in a very destructive work environment under the thumb of someone who on their best of days is a bully and on the worst is a textbook example of sociopathic behavior. The second is that I have failed to listen to my mind and body’s many warning shots that something has been amiss because I have been so wrapped up in that work situation. The third, and thankfully last, is that I have been I have failed to listen to those voices which warned me about the two previous points – both internal and external, human and other.
Recognizing failure is one thing. Do something about it is quite another. Action, growth, and change are necessary, however, and I have spent much of the new year working to rectify the failures. I have parted ways with the troublesome employer in favor of a workplace where there is a zero-tolerance policy for bullying. I am attempting to not just listen to but actually understand what my body is telling me, although it is with the same slowness and misunderstandings of learning any new language. Being more mindful of the words of my allies has been the easiest of the changes by far because the trust I have in those voices is still very much intact and I am painfully aware of what ignoring them can cost me. These are just first steps on a long journey, but they are steps in a much needed change of direction.
So, yes, springs is coming and with it, a promise of new growth and change. And it’s about time.
I’m just going to hide this post behind a warning, because this post is as the title suggests, about pain. A further disclaimer – it’s not meant as a commentary on anyone’s life, health, or choices other than my own.