The members of our weekly writing workshop, Finding Your Voice, met again this past Wednesday. Yvonne Jones, Laura Staley, Maribel Cardez, Tom Dietzler, and I ended up discussing matters of life and death — people suffering at length from incurable diseases, children dying from terminal illnesses or accidents — inexplicable things we can’t control and to which we can’t reconcile ourselves.
Laura told us she struggles to find her place in situations like that, to embrace her humanity and her need to grieve while battling compulsions to contribute to the situation and the feeling that she might — or should have been able to — exert some control over it.
Later in the week, she wrote this, which she generously allowed me to share here:
My inner children persist in asking: Why do people die? Where do people’s personalities go when they die? Why do children die? Why am I going to die? Why are there diseases like heart disease, cancer, and accidents that stop people from breathing, eating, peeing, thinking, feeling, laughing, crying, sitting, standing, walking, running, dancing, lying down, writing, coloring, crafting, drinking water? I find I don’t have many answers. I don’t know. I don’t know … Any made up stuff I tell them, my inner children seem to know I’m inventing things. I’m imagining things I cannot access from direct experiences of living.
I’m imagining things I cannot access from the experiences of living. Please just sit with that sentence for a while. I did. And I’ll sit with it again and again. It’s such a beautifully powerful statement on the inexplicability of the human condition.
Laura went on to cite what people often say when a young person passes away: “Well, I guess God needed another angel.”
Yvonne, serenely peaceful Yvonne, was shaking her head, even as Laura was saying that. “No,” Yvonne said. “God can make angels. He doesn’t to take them from among the living.”
Then she said, “I’d like to read something to you from Ecclesiastes 9:11.” And she read this:
I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.
Time and chance happen to them all. Please just sit with that sentence for a while, too. I did. And I’ll sit with it again and again. It’s a much-needed reminder that there are forces beyond us, beyond our misguided impulses to control them. And if we’re willing to take it to heart, it’s a subtle reminder that humility is more constructive than hubris, that surrender is more rational than control, that modest acceptance is more realistic than foolish notions of omnipotence.
On June 27, 1971, the Allman Brothers Band played the last concert ever at Bill Graham’s legendary concert venue, The Fillmore East. The Allmans played all night. Afterward, one of the band’s drummers, Butch Trucks, recalled this:
We played for roughly seven straight hours with everything we had … the feeling was just so overwhelming that I just started crying … And when we finished, there was no applause whatsoever. The place was deathly quiet. Someone got up and opened the doors, the sun came pouring in … nobody moving until finally they got up and started quietly leaving the place. I remember Duane [Allman] walking in front of me, dragging his guitar while I was just sitting there completely burned, and he said, “Damn, it’s just like leaving church.”
That’s what the end of our conversation last Wednesday was like. It was just like leaving church.
I love Yvonne, Laura, Maribel, and Tom with all my heart.
This is for them: