Polish me then 2013. I will accept whatever gladness you have to offer.

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?” – Rumi

I had an unpleasant New Year’s Eve.  Perhaps it was that I had just fallen back to earth with a resounding “thud” from a happy high of holiday bliss which included delightful time spent with my sweetie and children, and my family and old friends. Perhaps it was the reconnection with the reality of my bank account.  Maybe it was a result of dipping my toe back in to work yesterday and the deluge of phone calls and things to do.  Or, perhaps it was that my sweetie suggested at 7 pm that we take the Christmas tree down and put away the decorations and I was hungry and already cranky and out of sorts. Taking down the Christmas tree is not high on my list of fun projects.  In any case, it wasn’t a stellar day for me.

Just a few days ago I had begun writing a blog post I tentatively titled “happiness is…” .  In this post which I wrote while still in my holiday bliss-bubble, I discussed new feelings of happiness that have been catching me off guard recently, and my philosophical and emotional struggle to allow myself to be completely happy. (I know, I overthink things, but that’s how I roll, and the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings only made these questions more relevant for me this holiday season).  Yesterday I could feel the “happiness is…” post just sitting there in my draft file mocking me.

While visiting my parents in my home town of Corvallis, Oregon over the holidays, I spoke with my mother about my quest for happiness.  I shared the questions and feelings that come up for me of the “Why should I be allowed happiness when other people are struggling?” variety.  My mother, who is 25 years older and wiser than I, who just before Christmas celebrated 50 happy years of marriage to my father, and who doesn’t generally seem nearly as big a struggler as I anyway, smiled at me quizzically and indicated that she understood my dilemma.  At the same time, she seemed far removed from it.  Like I said, she’s wise.

There is a yoga studio in Corvallis which must have opened fairly recently called Livewell Studio.  I LOVE this place.  In the past when visiting my parents I have been known to be so desperate to find a place outside the house to practice yoga, that I have attended a Bikram class.  That’s desperate.  Well no worries now, this studio has me covered.

As I gratefully shuffled into a class at Livewell Studio last week, I saw a piece of paper on a small altar and stopped to read what it offered.  It was a poem.  A poem which surprisingly provided me with some very concrete answers to my happiness questions at just the right moment.  Here it is for you.  Happy New Year.

A Brief for the Defense

by Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

From ‘Refusing Heaven’, Knopf 2005

Bengal tiger


18 thoughts on “Polish me then 2013. I will accept whatever gladness you have to offer.

  1. I am struck by how similar we are… which we’ve said before. I understand this struggle and share it. I find myself wishing that I could just surrender to happiness, not think so much, feel so much. I’m not sure what the answer is, but your post resonates, as dos the poem. I can’t wait to get back to my yoga… when my knee is healed. I’ve never let the yoga fall away, but even that was a struggle just before the surgery. In this new year, I hope to surrender to more of these things. I hear you. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you, when I read your post about your mother, after writing this, I thought to myself that of COURSE we should be happy! Thank you for that post, it made me cry.

  2. Happiness is…..being mentioned with such love in your post! We delighted you found Live Well and look forward to seeing you again soon. Wishing you a Merry New Year. ~ ♥ Kristina & Lisa, the fortunate owners of Live Well Studio, Corvallis

  3. Ah happiness! Ah elusive illusion!
    Destiny calls us to mirth,
    While we lie dying of thirst.
    What is our hunger?
    For knowledge we beg
    To know the why for,
    The where art Thou?

    A mixed bag of reactions
    Due to previous actions
    It’s funny when we slip
    On a banana peal
    Then hear other’s help appeal
    And laugh it off.
    Oh, mechanical beast, the heart o’me
    Only purity will let me see
    You are there Krishna
    In that, cold pumping place
    Patiently waiting to be noticed.
    The Super-soul
    the Goal
    of Knowledge, ever dwelling in the heart.

    Well, I tried, have a happy rest of the year.

  4. “If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
    we should give thanks that the end had magnitude”
    Great line, great attitude – and the imagery made me smile besides. Happy 2013 to all. (NB I hate taking the tree down too. It’s akin repacking a picnic basket)

  5. I suspect many of us over think and miss those small sprinkles of everyday happiness. As terrible as the greater world is and as much as these things affect us, we individually can still have happiness in our life and thus spread it to others. Happiness is recognizing this, grabbing it and sharing it.

  6. I love this poem! So beautiful. Thank you! I hope you allow happiness to find you. I work in a women’s domestic violence shelter and it has taught me that even under the worst circumstances, the survivors staying here laugh and have moments of happiness. It really shocked me at first. But we just can’t suffer all the time. It’s the moments of joy that sustain us.

  7. >If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?” – Rumi
    – I can see myself spouting this in my head with every grain that lands in my oyster shell. Or when someone shares the irritation of similar grit in their lives.

    >Taking down the Christmas tree is not high on my list of fun projects.
    – Me, too! Actually, I like cleaning up and putting things away after a fun event. Except Christmas. We listened to Christmas carols for the last time at dinner last night i.e. New Year’s Day and I felt sad when I had to hit Stop …. eventually.

    >I know, I overthink things, but that’s how I roll
    – Roll on, Chris! You’ve got company.

    I think we all overthink. The ones who feel they do, say so aloud, the others just do. I think it’s the amount of time each one spends over a particular matter (and how that thinking manifests as word or actions) that creates the thinkers and overthinkers divide.
    Yes, there is the group of ‘Leap now, look later’, too, and although it’s tempting to think they do not think at all, I think they do; they just make it seem very quick or not at all.

    >I shared the questions and feelings that come up for me of the ”Why should I be allowed happiness when other people are struggling?” variety.
    – I’m not wise like your mum, so I WILL open my mouth. 😉

    I, too, had that conversation with my dad in my late teens or early twenties (i.e. when I was away from home at uni in another state). I remember my dad telling me that instead of only questioning why I got something – good or bad, to focus on being grateful for the opportunity. Of course, I did not understand the importance of “bad” events in my life until many, many years later. But feeling good about the good in my life was easier, and therefore, something I learned far more quickly to accept and be grateful for.

    >In the past when visiting my parents I have been known to be so desperate to find a place outside the house to practice yoga, that I have attended a Bikram class. That’s desperate.
    – I’m laughing at myself here because that *whoosh* flew right over my head. I find such ‘lost (on me) jokes’ hilarious, too. Ha ha!

    >A poem which surprisingly provided me with some very concrete answers to my happiness questions at just the right moment. Here it is for you.
    – Thank you, Chris! A lot of the thoughts was familiar, but there some new things, too.

    >There is laughter every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
    – I have visited Calcutta. While a lot of the streets are lovely, there are still a large number of those that make it into literary or photographic memoirs of people who have experienced them.

    >and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
    – During my visit to Bombay, I had read an article in the local newspapers about this seedy underbelly of Bombay. There was a picture as well, so I had a visual right away when I read that line.
    I know Bombay has changed to Mumbai, but I get my vowels muddled over Calcutta’s new (or going back to its pre-British rule roots) name.

    >If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
    we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
    – Aah. This is a new angle.

    >We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
    but not delight.
    – I like how the distinction is captured.

    >If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
    we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
    – I grinned broadly when I read this because I say something like this often to people who, for the first time, hear about my “bravery” and “stupidity” when I do something they wouldn’t do. I say the following to them:

    “I am not reckless, I am not dumb, I do not like pain. I do not want to (my father, when he was alive and) my mother to worry about me nor do I wish to cause (them/)her anguish.

    But I do not live my life in fear of ‘What if?’.

    I do everything I can to keep myself safe, but despite me doing everything I ought to do, should something bad STILL happen to me, I believe I was destined for the experience. And if I die because of it, hey, at least I will have made it to the evening news!”

    An ending with magnitude indeed! 🙂


    • Hello Kate,

      So nice to “see” you again, and thank you for your comments! Your father was so right on to tell you to focus on being grateful. I know that, and I have learned that lesson over and over again, but I can never hear it enough. I suppose that all I need to is institute more practices of gratitude in my life, and I won’t need to ask the question. I know I was not put on this earth to wallow around in gloom asking “why should I be happy?” But it IS a deep question. I suppose the answer is so obvious, and at the same time a bit of a puzzle. Anyway, Happy New Year, and I need to saunter on over to your blog and see what you’ve been up to!

  8. Hi Chris,

    Do you remember you said:

    “I know, I overthink things, but that’s how I roll,”?

    And do you remember in response, I sang,

    “You are not alone.”?

    Wait. I didn’t sing that; MJ did.

    But I said something along those lines.

    I thought of this post of yours, specifically that line of yours, when I read the following:

    >”It’s impossible for me to completely disregard something, so I overcompensate by regarding the hell out of everything.”

    on the About page of http://thetriviapursuit.wordpress.com/ when he got Freshly Pressed recently.

    His post and blog are out there for all and sundry to read, so I had no qualms quoting his text or mentioning his blog here.

    (Dear God, please don’t let The Trivial Pursuit have a copyright or something confounding like that because I did not mean to steal any of his data.)

    Well, to the point of this note – may I please quote this post of yours when I comment on his ‘About’ page?

    Because I think we all do the same thing. He calls it “overcompensate by regarding the hell out of everything”, you call it “overthinking things” and I … I … sing, “Not just you two, but me and you and all the doggies named and not named Boo.”

    Thanks for your time, Chris!


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