Learning to like lemons

The following poem is an anthem for those who have suffered yet soldier on. Full of dreary resilience. Fierce vulnerability. A paean to the paradox of strength through weakness. It is a nice companion to the ashes they were marking foreheads with last week. A good Lenten poem.

“Song Against Natural Selection”

The weak survive!
A man with a damaged arm,
a house missing a single brick, one step
torn away from the other steps
the way I was once torn away
from you; this hurts us, it

isn’t what we’d imagined, what
we’d hoped for when we were young
and still hoping for, still imagining things,
but we manage, we survive. Sure,
losing is hard work, one limb severed
at a time makes it that much harder

to get around the city, another word
dropped from our vocabularies
and the remaining words are that much heavier
on our tongues, that much further
from ourselves, and yet people
go on talking, speech survives.

It isn’t easy giving up limbs,
trying to manage with that much
less to eat each week, that much more
money we know we’ll never make,
things we not only can’t buy, but
can’t afford to look at in the stores;

this hurts us, and yet we manage, we survive
so that losing itself becomes a kind
of song, our song, our only witness
to the way we die, one day at a time;
a leg severed, a word buried: this
is how we recognize ourselves, and why.

— Edward Hirsch

You’ve heard “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Maybe it’s more like, “If life gives you lemons, learn to like lemons.” We are all losing, dying, one day at a time, our worldy attachments like leaves in an Indian Summer. It is a special courage to look this inevitability in the eye and make friends with it. It is also a key to true freedom. Sure wish I had me some.

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