my heart burned open wide

a black and white photo of a street with people in robes and a car in front of a cluster of buildings. the focal point is a monk who is actively on fire. this is the famous photo of Quảng Đức during his self-immolation

cw: war, death, existential dread

I have had so much to say but no ability to push the words from inside me to out here. It feels like I go from crisis to crisis — and maybe that’s true. Peace is difficult to locate and even harder to keep, a tiny burn-bright light held deep in your chest, near your heart, so small you might forget where it is or what it feels like.

My habit of naming these — posts? Emails? Newsletters? (ew) — with either song names or lyrics is difficult when there is so much going on but almost no end in sight, either personally or gestures vaguely everywhere.

Music has always felt like a second language for me, or maybe a waterfall, or a still deep lake, or perhaps what nebulae look like to our imperfect eyes. I cannot describe it in anything but metaphor. Music lifts me, explains me, explains things I should know but didn’t, traces the outlines of my grief and fills in the empty places. Music expresses the inexpressible.

Today there are so many songs that seem fitting for today’s offering of words.

Let Me In by The Unseen Guest. One More Light by Linkin Park. Hey Brother by Avicii. Hands by Jewel. Nova by VNV Nation. Secure Yourself by the Indigo Girls.

What am I trying to say to you, today? What am I trying to say to myself? I want peace, I want comfort, I want my fear to have a fixed time and length, I want to give comfort, I want to be Light, I want to hide, I want to open my arms wide and weep.

Lay me down, and wash this world from me
Open the skies, and burn it all away

I chose Nova, because at the heart of all my collection of feelings and fears and what I know is true and what I think will outlast all of us: is a reason to exist. Whether it hurts or not (and usually it does) to exist is almost irrelevant, because to live is to suffer, all of us. The world is full of children, some that are loved, some that are lost, some that are all but invisible.

I cannot contain that much pain. I cannot hold that much joy. A world full of fire and death is our birthright, here and now. We were born into this timeline.

I long to feel my heart burned open wide, ‘til nothing else remains
Except the fires from which I came

I think that this is why we have each other, why connection is the way forward when all is lost, why joy has any meaning at all.

I dreamed the world, with my eyes open
But time moved on and then, new worlds begin again
Oh my heart, in this universe so vast
No moment was made to last, so light the fire in me

It is easy for me to exhaust myself just by thinking. It is a horrible time to see war and death and feel simultaneously close to it and so very far away. It feels both selfish and necessary to give words to my own horror, knowing that I am not protesting in the streets, I am not living in the places being bombed and destroyed, I am only me, I am only here, and my perspective will always have holes in it, things that I can’t know or don’t understand.

I think it is important to watch, to witness, to see and try to understand. I think that when we look for as long as we can — and look away if we have the privilege to be able to look away — it helps remind us that while the world is big it is also small. There are people on Twitter and Reddit and Facebook who are saying the last thing they will ever get to say. There are life-ending circumstances that we are able to witness with almost no delay between the happening and the witnessing.

I don’t have a way of wrapping up this piece. Hopefully I’ve stopped writing it at the correct point in time, before this devolves into a paean to selfishness instead of an attempt at self-interrogation.

All quoted lyrics from Nova, from VNV Nation’s album Automatic.

featured image is journalist Malcolm Browne‘s photograph of Quảng Đức during his self-immolation

Nix Kelley
Co-parent to multiple kids. Writer. Death doula. Member of the Order of the Good Death. Seeker on the Path of Light. Queer, non-binary, & trans.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.