Two cupped hands held in another's, together holding flowers as

they reach across a chasmArtwork by Ifada Nisa

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Dear friends,

So much conflict comes from the question of control. The brilliant writer Claire Mitchell, when writing about British Irish conflict wrote that “there’s conflict about what the conflict’s about.” This is true for populations of people, but also true for individuals. The question of what’s possible to change — and what’s not — can cause deep tension in us. 

This week’s On Being is a continuation of our Future of Hope series, where a former guest of the show sits in the interviewing seat. This week, the esteemed journalist and essayist Pico Iyer is the host and is in conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, Big Magic, and more recently, the novel City of Girls

In this hour, Elizabeth — or Liz, as she’s known by — speaks about living with what you can’t fix. In 2018, her partner Rayya died of cancer. Liz recounts, “She had a terminal diagnosis. I was aware at some level that she was going to die, but I thought that I could curate that experience for her and for me, to make it pain-free — as pain-free as possible; to have as enlightened an experience of death as possible; to bring in the best teachers and guides and healers and hospice workers and you know … that is not at all how it went.”

The desire to curate a terrible experience is worthwhile and — for when it’s possible — it’s a good thing. However, in the reality of this circumstance, Liz reflects that, were she able to re-imagine how she was present to Rayya in the last period of her life, she’d let go of the imagination of being able to control: control how family members responded; control how she responded; control how grief and fear landed in both of them. Living with what you can’t fix is a tough lesson, and there is a richness and solidity to this conversation between Pico and Liz that may call to mind many griefs.

How, then, do we live? Liz reflects on what it means to be entirely present to what’s happening. Speaking about hope, she’s cautious, aware that while many people who loved Rayya hoped — even until the last days — that she’d make a recovery, sometimes that hope got in the way of being present to the arrival of death. 

“I hope more and more to become a person who can live in the world as it is,” Liz says, noting that the world as it is can be a tough place to be. It requires practice to maintain this presence. One of the practices that’s sustained her has been to write a letter to love. While it’s something she’s done on and off for many years, she’s come to it more particularly as a daily practice in the last few years. Writing to love helps her imagine how love would write back to her, and it keeps her attention on what’s happening in the day. In this way, writing, imagination, reality, reflection, and listening are all part of being present to her life. “Writing was my first prayer,” she says, reminding us of how writing — perhaps especially the form of a letter — is a powerful way to access what’s deep in us. 

In the hands of Pico Iyer’s care-filled interview, Liz Gilbert shares her practice in the last few years of learning how to be present to what we cannot change; in the hope that we can also take that similar courage and practice to the things we can. There’s a tension in all of this, because for as many circumstances that require a certain kind of humble submission in us, there are others that invite resilience, resistance, effort, and time of us as we look to the project of justice and change. 

Our first episode of Poetry Unbound this week is Darrel Alejandro Holnes’ poem “Amending Wall” — a powerful revisiting of Robert Frost’s well known poem “Mending Wall.” Good fences make good neighbors, Robert Frost had said. Darrel Alejandro Holnes considers fences: their construction, their imposition, the colonialism involved in importing fences to places where there were none. Friday’s episode features Nico Amador’s poem “Flower Wars,” an exploration of the ways in which pageant wars were part of the Aztecs’ rituals in the decades leading up to Spanish invasion, with the result that the Europeans were able to exploit existing tensions for their own purposes of dominance and conquest. In both poems, a strong question of resistance, truth-telling, and reframing demonstrates the possibility of what remaking a world can be in the face of things that can be changed with courage, commitment, and time. 

Friends, in the things you can change, and in the things you can’t, we wish you presence of mind, collaboration of hearts, a community of strength, and a vision of dignity. We are glad to be on this way with you.

 

Beir bua, 

Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound

 


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This Week at The On Being Project


Our Latest Episode


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On Being with Krista Tippett
Pico Iyer and Elizabeth Gilbert
The Future of Hope 3

Two beloved writers and friends, on grappling with a complex understanding of hope as the world continues to overwhelm.

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Poetry Unbound
Monday
Darrel Alejandro Holnes
Amending Wall

Who says that fences are part of neighborliness? Darrel Alejandro Holnes’ poem responds to this idea of Robert Frost’s with artistry, verve, and critique. 

Friday
Nico Amador 
Flower Wars

A poem that at once queries the Flower Wars toward the end of the Aztec era, and also queries wars today: Who are they for? 

Listen on:
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Events


Journey Into the Common Good

July 1-11, 2022
Isle of Patmos, Greece

Krista and Pádraig will be leading a 10-day salon on the Greek Island of Patmos next July, together with musicians Rhiannon Giddens, Franceso Turrisi, and former On Being guest Joe Henry. Organized by Good World Journeys. Some partial scholarships are available. Everything you need to know, including how to register, can be found here.

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