top of page
Blue Sky

"Life Will Break You": Everyday Magic, Day 1094

Updated: Mar 2


Within weeks of my terrifying eye cancer diagnosis in 2019, my friend Harriet brought me this hand-set-type print of my favorite quote from one of my favorite novels by my favorite novelist, Louise Erdrich.


Every morning when I wake up, this is the first thing I see, hanging on the wall directly opposite from where I sleep. Every night before I turn off the lights, I glance up and acknowledge Erdrich's words (from her novel The Painted Drum), nodding at them as if they're an old friend reminding me to wear a coat when it's cold out, drink some iced water when it's too hot, get enough sleep, and remember to take deep breaths slowly when life is painful. In a sense, this quote normalizes loss, grief, death, and the inherent suffering in all.


While I write this on a sunny day, the first of March, while watching a lovely titmouse flutter down to the bird feeder on the other side of the window, I'm cognizant of how I'm not broken or broken-hearted now. That's a temporary state, and I will relish all these days, even more so as their preciousness shines with age, because, as Jane Kenyon writes in her wonderful poem, "Otherwise," "....one day, I know/ it will be otherwise."


We are all at the mercy of otherwise. As Erdrich tells us,"You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up." After all, there is no love without risk. Likewise, as Mary Oliver says in her poem "West Wind 2": "There is life without love. It is not worth a bent penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a dead dog nine days unburied." This love could be between you and a dog, a child, a parent, a friend, a garden full of basil this coming spring, or the pale blue light and slight wind holding the just-budding cottonwood right now.


It's good to live in love with the life force in as many manifestations of it as we can open our hearts to in the workaday world. Do I love the steaming bowl of oatmeal with butter and slivered almonds I just ate? Yeah, I kind of do. Do I love the flock of dark birds flying so quickly that I couldn't see what they were or where they were going? Do I love the Chad Lawson piano piece I'm hearing right now for the first time? Do I love my little kitty cat, the angle of sunlight on a too-big-for-its-pot bundle of succulents, the ease of my fingers typing this? Yes to all as well as the usual suspects to love: all the "my...." that aren't actually mine -- my husband, kids, family, friends, community.


I also love my work because it's inherently about love: I coach people or facilitate classes or collaborate with dear friends to create something that allows people to write, speak, and act in tune with what they love. Yesterday, I met with my first coaching client, George, who I've been working with since 2017, as we mapped out his next book, delighting in how much fun and how important this was going to be, before coming home to put the finishing touches on a class I'm teaching starting next week, 15 Poets to Open Your Heart and Writing. Just about everything on my calendar is about just this thing: using words to open our hearts and lives, so what's not to love?


Over the 24 years I taught at Goddard College, whenever I ran into my colleague Bobby in the hall, he would call out, "Why are we here?" I'd answer, maybe too jauntily when I was in my late 30s and didn't know as much about what this meant, "To break open our hearts!" Then we'd laugh. But true teaching and learning is about just that, and this endeavor happens mostly well beyond any college.


I think of beloved friends dead in the last few years or even decades ago, and there's sure a lot to remind me of them in our home, from the rocking chair we inherited from one of Ken's best childhood friends, John, who died over 30 years ago, to photos on a shelf in my kitchen of my grandfather, younger than I am now, staring out from the stamp stop he owned with my father. His death in 1975 was one of the first times life broke me, and there's been so many breaks, betrayals, abandonments, hurts, and the like -- for me and all of us -- since then that I have a much more visceral feel of what life does and can do.


"Listen to the apples fallen around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could," Erdrich tells us. There's so much falling, fallen, or about to fall, but there's also this good ground that holds us and provides all needed to grow what sustains and nurtures us and all of life. Pick up an apple. Bite into it. Love your life.


Please consider joining me on Patreon -- get lots more content like this and help support my creation of more writing, workshops, and community offerings. Join for as little as $3/month and you'll receive a weekly Care Package for a Creative Life, a writing guide just for patrons, and cool surprises. Details here.



205 views4 comments

Recent Posts

See All

4 Comments


Guest
Mar 01

So perfect….so hard, almost impossible

Like

Guest
Mar 01

Caryn, so beautiful and true and timely. Life is breaking me a little right now, but I know to close my heart will not serve me well. I too will save this beautiful poem. I love “otherwise” too. One of my favorites for this season. Kim G.

Like

Guest
Mar 01

I love this. ❤️

Thanks for sharing the image of the quote too. It’s so beautiful!

Like

Guest
Mar 01

Such beautiful words, Caryn, and what a powerful Erdrich quote. Specifically I love how she turns the abstract—yet still strident—thoughts into reality with the apples falling. Simple and striking. Thank you. —Marco Kaye (friend from Writer's Colony at Dairy Hollow)

Like
Blue Sky
bottom of page