The Sweetness and the Bitter
I've been thinking about those who choose sweetness and those who choose to be bitter, and how and why that is. I went in search of wisdom on this subject, and came upon this book that I bought when it first came out in 1992. What a big deal the book was then, but I'm sure I only understood the half of it. Here is Clarissa Pinkola Estés on what she calls the most important psychic decision one makes in mid-life:
“There is a time in our lives, usually in mid-life, when a woman has to make a decision – possibly the most important psychic decision of her future life – and that is, whether to be bitter or not. Women often come to this in their late thirties or early forties. They are at the point where they are full up to their ears with everything and they've “had it” and “the last straw has broken the camel's back” and they're “pissed off and pooped out.” Their dreams of their twenties may be lying in a crumple. There may be broken hearts, broken marriages, broken promises.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés from Women Who Run with the Wolves
Let's think about sweetness, next.
by Stephen Dunn
Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac
with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
and changed nothing in the world
except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving
someone or something, the world shrunk
hand-size, and never seeming small.
I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet ....
Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low
and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief
until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough
to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care
where it’s been, or what bitter road
to come so far, to taste so good.
The bitter moments will come, this is a given. We've all lived through some bitterness, and we'll live through more. But let sweetness come. Even if, as Dunn says, it's only on loan.
We are here to experience sweetness. The other stuff is inevitable.
“Resentment, bitterness, and holding a grudge prevent us from seeing and hearing and tasting and delighting.”
― Pema Chödrön
There is a line in The English Patient that I read when it first came out in the early 90s, and when I was (obviously) younger. I remember being stopped in my tracks by this line. Of course, by now I've seen it played out many times. Here it is:
And I've carried this line around with me ever since. What a difference it has made.