Between the material world and the world of feeling there must be a
border — on one side, the person grieves and the cells of the body grieve also;
the molecules also; the atoms. Of this there are many proofs. On the other,
the iron will of the earth goes on. The torture — broken femur continues to
heal even in the last hour, perhaps beyond; the wool coat left behind does
not mourn the loss of its master. And yet Cavafy wrote, “In me now
everything is turned into feeling — furniture, streets.” And Saba found in
a bleating goat his own and all beings’ sorrow, and this morning the voice
of that long-dead goat — which is only, after all, a few black-inked words —
cries and cries in my ears. Rilke, too, believed the object longs to awaken in
us. But I long for the calm acceptance of a bentwood chair and envy the
blue-green curve of a vase’s shoulder, which holds whatever is placed
within it — the living flower or the dead — with an equally tender balance,
and knows no difference between them.

{Jane Hirshfield, AFTER}

This = gorgeous.

The phrase ‘between the material world and the world of feeling’ caught me. I want to write about what seems to be just exactly that to me, though it takes the thought in a different direction to this beautiful poem.

It seems to me that this ‘between’ is a space rather than a border, and it is where courage, honor, trust, love, joy, forgiveness, and peace, are both found and used. It is where adventures happen, daring occurs, where risk and reward have the most meaning. It is a battleground, and few dare to venture there, even once they know its ways and rules. Material things and the realm of feelings are far more tangible, measurable, and manipulable with fairly predictable results (except where the between intervenes, but let’s leave that aside for a while).

This between-place cannot be classified, yet it is tied to every inch of our beings, the earth, and our combined potential. It is a space where community’s meaning is at home, and the insanity of groups needn’t be. In fact it is most often those who have ceased to reach out towards it, who cannot countenance being willing to sacrifice for it, who allow others to wreak the havoc and insanity they wish to (passively) avoid. The world is not a static place; if you want change, static procedures alone will not reshape any thing that already exists. The world is not run by feelings; if you want change, broadcasting feelings and trying to make others feel as you do is insufficient and tends toward inducing guilt rather than spurring people to change. The world can be turned absolutely upside-down (or right-side up) from between, however, if we will abide by its ways. While this between-place cannot be classified, it is a place where all we are familiar with is glowing with the potential for exponential growth and even redemption.

We mostly refuse to reach for it — even ignoring it — unless at the utmost extreme of need, and even then only for a short while. We know that it may cost us in the tangibles we are so accustomed to. After all, the accoutrements of the ideal life we’ve been taught — even spiritually — are rooted in what we control, and our control begins with tangible things and feelings (either those of others or our own). By beginning with these things, however, we ceiling all our efforts and the future of entire nations.

It comes down to the sustainability, freedom, and solidity of being founded as individuals, families, communities, and peoples on this kind of ground. People have attempted to do this for centuries, but this type of living by reaching for elusive values and cherishing despite our material or emotional state  is now regarded as old-fashioned and impossible. Indeed it is almost barbaric to try, we say, because it invites suffering and ‘justifies’ it. This is not true. Freedom retsts in the realm of those who reach from between to affect either side, not those who make their decisions because of the perceived boundaries their material or emotional condition places upon them.

We were made to be free. But not by having more, doing more, or feeling more. By being more. That is infinitely more difficult, and sometimes costs quite a lot. But the harvest of a life that lives from out of ‘between’ is staggeringly out of proportion to the difficult planting and tending of its tiny-looking seeds.

c. Mary Kathryn Gough, January 21, 2012


2 thoughts on “Between

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