Monday, August 29, 2011

Heart and Wings

Why We Must Struggle
-Kay Ryan


If we had not struggled
as hard as we can
at our strongest
how will we sense
the shape of our losses
or know what sustains
us longest or name
what change costs us,
saying how strange
it is that one sector
of the self can step in
for another in trouble,
how loss activates
a latent double, how
we can feed
as upon nectar
upon need?

I carried a copy of this poem in my wallet for years, reading it every time I pulled out a dollar bill, a constant reminder, a necessary impetus pushing me to struggle, to live, to call upon my own "latent double," the stronger, stable, life-loving, life-giving self.

That latent self might dress herself in the mystical garb of Julian of Norwich, professing the necessity of a love that fully-encompasses the senses, that loves life and limb (no self-flagellating rending of skin on the forearms); a love that floods the body and the soul, a love that weds desire with completion: Love Yourself, through and through--bony feet and knobby knees, stretch-marked thighs and flabby stomach, deflated breasts and that often-self-maligned face that stares back at you in the mirror, but most of all, the large heart concealed within, beating and beating, struggling to keep pace, to keep compensating for all the bouts of starvation, all the times it has been split in two, all the times it has been filled with lead weights, pulled down by the suicidal dive of depression to the bottom of the deepest ocean trench. But that tired, wounded heart beats on, struggles on, despite all efforts to surrender to a self-proposed end.

That latent self, too, might dress herself in the wings of a Zebra Swallowtail butterfly, swooping and diving into sticky nectar, knowing that loss, while inevitable, can be contained and delayed--flap the wings into headwinds, seek out the sweet honeysuckle, drink sustenance even with the knowledge that there will be an end to the glorious flights on the tradewinds, that one day the black-and-white striped wings will beat and beat, then flutter, then eventually fall still, but not from a lack of trying, not from having lived a strenuous, heroic life in the face of predadtors and storms and obsessed lepidopterists, but will fall still of their own natural, end-of-life accord.

Why must I struggle? I must struggle for the 8 ounces of heart that beats and beats within me, trying to sustain me, forgiving all the damage I have myself inflicted, healing all the losses I have myself hollowed out. I must struggle for the invisible wings that beat and beat on my back, lifting me time and again from the bottom of the well, flying straight for the sweet nectar of food and love and forgiveness and grace.

This morning, I did not want to struggle. I actually said a small, desperate, non-sane-mind prayer, that I wouldn't wake up from anesthesia I'd receive from this morning's ECT treatment. I was overwhelmed by the sheer exhaustion of this struggle, by the dailyness of it, by its thiry-year grip on me. I prayed my heart and wings would stop beating, that I could simply just drift off, literally, into the ether.

Thankfully, that was not to be: I woke, shocked back into my struggle, into the necessity to do my absolute best to see it through, to persevere and return home to my children and husband and dogs and cat and Chinese Water Dragon, and friends and family. To promise them all, at least in this very moment, I will struggle, anchor myself to NOW, to what the present moment offers: that I love and am loved; that I need and am needed.

Because the only alternative, is one unfolding before me right now: a fellow patient, twenty-five years old, has been in and out of Eating Disorder hospital units for the past eight years (she was here, in fact, when I was here one and one-half years ago). Now she is on a feeding tube, her body reduced to the rubble of severe, what seems to be an almost-irreversible end to her anorexia. She is trying to get admitted to hospice care: "I won't ever recover," she said. "And there is no one to recover for, least of all myself. I'd just like to be allowed to die."

So I must keep my struggle close to heart and wings, beating, beating, beating.