This post is about seeing. And blocks to seeing. In Buddhism, we speak of the fault of wrong view, of not perceiving reality correctly. This is the kind of seeing of which I write, here, on the second anniversary of Pete Seeger’s death. I was working in the Hudson Valley when he died, staying not far from his home in Beacon, NY. His loss was felt acutely there, for Seeger was a constant, loving, joyful presence in the area.
I missed my last opportunity to see him perform live. Chained to my desk trying to finish a project on a ludicrously unreasonable deadline, I had skipped the Clearwater Festival the previous summer. Sitting at the same desk where I had spent a hot and resentful 48 hours a few months prior, I wept for his loss, and also with gratitude for what he had given us. And comforted myself with his music. One recording, in particular, resonated with me in the days following his death: a duet with Joni Mitchell of Both Sides Now, with an added verse composed by Seeger, which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyYuFBj8PTU
Two years later, I am again sitting with sadness and grief, but not for a current loss. I am grieving the loss of my father, though I have lived more of my life without him than with him. Now I seek to learn how to honor this sacred space of grieving not only for the loss of my father but more so for my misunderstanding of his life, which led me to hold a cold and arid memory of him these many years. In this time I am reminded of the words of the fourth verse to Both Sides Now, the verse that Seeger penned:
Daughter, daughter, don’t you know
You’re not the first to feel just so?
So let me say, before I go,
It’s worth it any way.
Some day we all may be surprised,
We’ll wake, and open up our eyes
And then at last, we’ll realize
The whole world feels this way.
We’ve all been living upside down
And turned around, with love unfound
Until we turn and face the sun
Yes, all of us, everyone.
I have always envied those of my friends whose lives fit into neat, orderly narratives, and especially those who had a photographic record to accompany those narratives.
I do not have a neat, orderly narrative, and far too few photographs—though, I recently learned, many more than I thought. Looking for a letter from my father, I found a treasure chest of old photographs.
I will never have a complete picture of my life. Several important pieces of the puzzle are missing, and the people who hold them are dead. But this past week, I discovered a big, anchoring, important piece of the puzzle. I didn’t do it alone. And it didn’t magically drop from the sky in one day. It was, rather, the culmination of years of work, of questions, of anger, of frustration, of struggle with a hard, blocked place in my heart. When that place yielded, it gave way to space for grief. For softness. For forgiveness, and to nurture love’s tender tendrils. And yes, for many forgotten, sweet memories.
Jack Kerouac was on to something when he suggested we forgive everyone for our own sins, and tell everyone we love them. I pray I may I be forgiven for my sins, especially for the sin of not seeing. Of wrong view, of not seeing correctly. For focusing my lens on what would better have been forgotten, and for letting fade that which I should have treasured, which could have nourished me.
When I converted to Buddhism I created a small shrine in my home, crowded with pictures of my teachers. I added another one today, to honor a man who was not able to show his love to his family in a way we could understand. The man whose name I carry. A photo to remind me that sometimes I do not see what is obvious, right in front of me. In the same way that water is imperceptible to a fish, someone had to help me see the love that had nurtured me. I learned, as well, that fear and love can beget anger.
As I light candles and offer prayers today, I think also with gratitude of three people who supported me — and continue to support me — on this journey and who guided me to this place of understanding. They held me and my pain and my stories; pointed out the contours of this missing piece of the puzzle of my life; and showed me how it all could fit together, until at last I was able to clear the blocks and see.
© 2016 Teresa I. Sivilli. All rights reserved.