A little story: Once there were two children who lived in the inner city in Dublin. They were twins, a boy and a girl. They had no chance in life. Even as babies they were addicts – even before they left the womb. Their mother was addicted to heroin. The father came and went bringing violence and abuse with him. The children lived in squalor. They had no education, barely enough to eat, and resorted to thieving to feed their mother’s addiction. At last they were taken into care but nothing could change the pattern of their childhood. They ran away and spent long periods on the streets. The boy developed his own drug habit by the age of twelve. The girl broke away. She experienced abuse in the guise of help and realized there was no authority under the sun she could trust. But then as if a voice inside her had spoken she decided she would build her own life, from the ground up. She managed, with difficulty, to find a job and a room. After some time she took literacy classes, and then progressed to night-school. Finally she enrolled in college and gained a qualification. As the years passed she married, bought a house and had children. One day she was walking over O’Connell Bridge and she saw a figure hunched inside a sleeping bag, begging with a plastic cup in front of him. It was her brother – her twin. He didn’t see her.
The brother never made it. He didn’t have the same opportunities. And yet their opportunities were exactly the same.
How is this possible? It wasn’t nature and it certainly wasn’t nurture – both things had failed them completely. They had no chance in life. So how did one rise up and the other didn’t?
I have no answer to this. One could look for little sociological clues or say, perhaps, that the father had managed to spare an ounce more love for the girl than for the boy. Somehow it feels as if you have to say something: find some excuse for life.
I pondered over this and came up with one or two contributory elements, apparently unrelated. The first was that, ‘You only receive what you can cope with’. I believe this – that life gives you what you can handle, whether it seems fair or not. It’s not a question of what you deserve but what you can cope with. This doesn’t quite fit in, in terms of finding explanations, excuses or justifications. Even if the shoulders are weak they carry the burden up to the last breath. I could go on and say, the greater the heart the greater the load, until there is a universe to bear. If a god’s own steps are slowed with the burden he has to bear, then a human love might step in to help. I think we’re in this position in life: that we bear the burden we can cope with in order that the divine can carry the universe. In other words, by bearing the load – often without any explanation or help – we perform a service for the divine in us. Even if we don’t know there is any divine there at all.
The second element is the question of heart. In the story the girl seems to have more ‘heart’ – in the sense of being able to lift herself up – than the boy. Why is this? Both are like people lying on a bed of burning coals with feet pressing them down. Why does one have the heart to get up while the other doesn’t? This is just the original question put in a different form. Is it that one is born with the heart while the other isn’t? We’ve already established that both were born addicted. For me the answer is that the heart has to be given. In this case it has to be given by the divine: the divine returns the help it has received through the human being carrying its burden. This again brings up the question, ‘Why does one deserve help and not the other?’
I believe the answer lies in my third element which is: Powerlessness. Powerlessness soaks the argument out of you. It is the opposite of ‘world’. The world is power. It has fullness, resources, opportunities. Powerlessness leaves you like an empty, burnished bowl. It is the only time in life when it’s justified to say that the human being is an empty vessel which has to be filled up – when powerlessness has done its work. This is the great theme of tragedy: catharsis. In drama the point comes when the gods say, ‘It’s done – that’s enough’. In life it’s the same: the empty bowl can be filled with the flame of ‘heart’ which is the only real power in the world. I think this is the only explanation why one rises up and the other doesn’t – the words, ‘It is enough’.
All these ‘contributory elements’ aren’t explanations at all. But neither are they excuses or justifications. Just try and find a satisfying answer to problems like this that doesn’t include judgements or excuses for life: ‘He must have deserved it’; ‘it was his karma’; ‘she had something in her that he didn’t’; ‘there must have been something different that gave her a chance’. I would personally like to find comprehensive answers that don’t impose further burdens. Too often the feet pressing you down on the burning coals have some connection to religion. And I like answers which belong within the spiritual nature of the human being. To my mind those will have ‘heart’ and the chance of personal responsibility.
However, all this circling around the question is just the way my particular mind works. I would love to hear from anyone who has more experience or different insights!
Jay Landar – About the Author:
Take a walk with author and poet Jay Landar through worlds of fantasy, inspiration and insight. On the way you will see the people and problems of today – the trials of the globe we all inhabit as it grows towards a new era. Find the truth of the inner self and the gentle light it sheds on these struggles – a light which can only grow stronger. Romance, Truth and Beauty are the keywords of my articles. Please join me on our walk through these worlds!