A Poem for my Daughter

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It seems we have made pain
some kind of mistake,
like having it 
is somehow wrong. 

Don’t let them fool you—
pain is a part of things. 

But remember, dear Ellie, 
the compost down in the field:
if the rank and dank and dark 
are handled well, not merely discarded, 
but turned and known and honored, 
they one day come to beds of rich earth
home even to the most delicate rose. 


God comes to you disguised as your life.
Blessings often arrive as trouble. 

In French, the word blesser means to wound
and relates to the Old English bletsian—
to sprinkle with blood. 

And in Sanskrit there is a phrase, 
a phrase to carry with you
wherever you go:
sarvam annam: 
everything is food. 
Every last thing. 


The Navajo people,
it is said, 
intentionally wove 
obvious flaws into their sacred quilts …


It is there, they say, 
in the “mistake,” 
in the imperfection, 
through which the Great Spirit moves. 


Life is easy, yes.
And life is hard.
Life is simple, yes.
And life is complex.
We are tough, yes. But we are also fragile. 
Everything’s eternally perfect 
but help out if you can. 


Work on becoming a native of mind, a native of heart. 
No thought, no feeling, could ever be “bad.” 

It’s just another creature 
in the bestiary of Buddha,
the bestiary of Christ. 

Knowing this, 
knowing this down to the marrow, 
could save you, dear one, 
much needless strife. 

Remember that wild and strange animals 
paused to drink at the pond 
of the Buddha’s mind
even after he saw 
the morning star. 


No matter what you do, no matter what happens,
it is impossible to leave the path. 

Let me say that one more time:
No matter what you do, no matter what happens,
it is impossible to leave the path. 


Believe it or not, dear Ellie,
some folks carefully imagine
hideous gods tearing at flesh,
clawing at faces, 
eating human hearts,
and drinking cups of blood … 


To shake hands with the Whole Catastrophe,
to cultivate the Noble Idiot Yes. 

According to their tradition, 
there are 84,000 “skillful means,”
84,000 tactics of wakefulness,
84,000 ways to become spaciously alive,
84,000 ways to be at home in your life and in this world. 

And many of those skillful means are like this one: 
enlightenment through endarkment. 


Life appears to be fundamentally ambiguous. 
Wily, everycolored, unpindownable. 
For evidence of this, spend time with trees. 

Over and over they say, 
There is no final word.

And big decisions—
decisions concerning 
relationships, concerning children, 
concerning death—
are rarely made cleanly. 

In general, be wary—
even if just a little—
of talk of purity,
of goodness, 
of light. 


To love everything, not just parts …
To love all of yourself, not just certain traits … 
To rest in not knowing …

To carry the cross
and to lay your burden down … 

To savor the medicine blue of moon,
the fierce sugar of tangerine …

To be a Christ unto others,
a Christ unto one’s self …

To laugh …
To be shameless, wild, and silly …

To know—fully, headlong, 
without compunction—the ordinary magic 
of our beautiful human bodies … 

these seem worthwhile pursuits, life-long tasks. 

By way of valediction, dear Ellie, 
I pass along some words
from our many gracious teachers:

Eden is. 
The imperfect is our paradise. 
All is grace.


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