Tears, Tails, Dickey and Duane

September 17, 2013   |   35 Comments  |   FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites


“I love being alive and I will be the best man I possibly can. I will take love wherever I find it and offer it to everyone who will take it…I will seek knowledge from those wiser and teach those who wish to learn from me.” Duane Allman

Today has been a crying kind of day. Perhaps you’ve had such a day where you feel everything. I saw some posts on Facebook about sick children and I started crying. I reflected on a conversation yesterday with a friend and recalled the tender, hopeful look on her face when she talked about her dreams and I couldn’t stop crying. I was talking to another friend this morning about my hopes (and frustrations) about my own work and I couldn’t stop crying. And besides my ridiculously first-world problems, I remembered a story I read yesterday about a poor 8-year old Yemeni girl who died after her “wedding night” from sexually induced injuries. I sobbed and sobbed. I’ve got to get out of here, I thought. This is a terrible world.

I went to the grocery store to get something to cook for dinner and as I was purchasing some fish, I noticed they were selling fresh (meaning uncooked) lobster tails. Wait, I thought to myself, how did they get those tails off the lobsters? Did they rip them off of a living creature…oh, no… I couldn’t stop crying. I need to stop eating fish, I thought. I looked around and saw other types of flesh for sale and thought, I can’t stand the suffering.  I should become a vegetarian. (I know there are those of you with extreme beliefs on this score, and I appreciate you. But I ask you to hold those thoughts for the meantime.)

I looked at the guy’s face behind the fish counter and there was something very dear about him, like I could have told him why I was crying and we could have had a chat. (I didn’t.) If I stop eating fish, will he have a job? If I only eat vegetables, can I ever really be sure they’re farmed in a way that doesn’t include the suffering of man or beast? Maybe I should go live on a farm and grow my own food. Maybe I should never go to a store because someone’s face might be so dear and touch me so much that I never recover. Maybe I should just stay home.

I looked around the store for a safe person to look at or a safe product to buy, one untouched by suffering. I stood for a while staring at the vegetarian spring rolls. Surely these are untouched by creature sorrow, I thought.

I couldn’t know. I looked around the market and there was no place that didn’t make me think of suffering. There is no place to go, I thought. There is no place to hide. I can’t even go buy dinner at the store.

At that moment, I realized that there is no corner I can back up into that does not include suffering. None. Of course, as a Buddhist, this is the first noble truth we are taught: Life is suffering but for some reason, until I saw those lobster tails, I didn’t quite believe it. Suffering is not optional.

It’s hopeless I thought.

And then I didn’t.

As I walked out of the store, I noticed the song playing through their sound system: Blue Skies by the Allman Brothers. I love that song. I stopped in my tracks. I have listened to that piece of music countless times and this is why: partway through, a second guitarist joins the first and they begin to play together. With no effort, they find each other and play in tandem and off each other, one sweeter and the other fuzzier, totally separate and completely joined. At 2:27 they say hi and at 4:11 they say bye and in between they have a loping, endless, easy companionship. Friends. You might expect that two guitarists would “duel” or try to outdo each other, but not Dickey and Duane. They fall into each other and that falling outdoes me every time and I, well, cry. Always.

My friends, we have each other. We are capable of extraordinary companionship and dialog—and I don’t only mean we can hash things out or come to agreements or recite poetry to each other—I mean we can encounter each other. We can respond to each other. We can connect with each other. We can see each other and the seeing (or, in this case, hearing) is everything. We are not alone.

Yes, it is true that our hearts are unprotected at every moment and anything from horrific child abuse to an innocent spring roll can cause us to fall apart. But we have each other. While we can’t protect our own hearts, it is totally within our power to protect each other’s. In fact, each is the only protection of the other. The Golden Rule is not a suggestion, it is an imperative. I can be careful and respectful in the way I talk to you, and not just that—in the way I think about you. I can watch out for you. I can see your sorrows and when you are drowning in them I can embrace you. When you are scary and about to go off the rails, I can feel sad for you in addition to all the rage, confusion, or fear you might also rouse in me. This is a kind of protection.

When I realized how beautifully (and, okay, oddly) our human situation is set up, that the only possible protection comes, not from money or policies or movements, but from acknowledging and loving each other—well, I couldn’t stop crying. There is nothing but hope. And music, always. So the next time you are sad, listen.

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  • Posted by:  Jennifer Boykin

    This is the most hopeful thing I have read in a very LONG time. I live where yesterday’s shooting happened. And 9-11. And anthrax. And Sniper. Last night was yet another night where I tried to explain all of this for my beautiful children at the supper table. I am tired. But, I am not bereft. Space. Time. Good food. And, friends, as you point out. These things heal. These things restore. Blessed be, Beautiful Susan. Love, Jen

    • Posted by:  susan

      Jennifer, I’m so happy this touched you. There is always a way to take a fresh start… Love, S

  • Posted by:  Janet Pal

    Acknowledging, loving, protecting, and hoping. For you, Susan. For everyone. For all of us. Thank you. xo Janet

    • Posted by:  susan

      I’m right with you on that, Janet…

  • Posted by:  Michelle Andres

    Thank you, Susan. That was beautiful, honest and raw. Sometimes it feels like I am too open for the world…but it also feels like I’m honoring myself and being deeply authentic when I feel so deeply. Maybe our tears help wash away the suffering, not sure. One thing is for sure, the people and places that make us feel safe and open are blessings. Thanks for posting the song…you know I was going to hunt it down if you hadn’t. Thank you for sharing this poignant post.

    • Posted by:  susan

      I have to believe that tears are helpful…and music, too. xo S

  • Posted by:  Jenna

    In my ongoing mental conversation with you, I have been telling you how overwhelmed I feel by suffering, how boundless it is, how every situation seems like a double-edged sword and either way you turn, suffering results. I think of my refuge vow weekend, learning about the Bodhisattva path and hearing Eric say that those who took that vow will be working to end all suffering for a long, long, long time by the looks of our current situation. Despite my resistance to suffering, to allowing myself to acknowledge it and feel it, the only thing that ultimately keeps me sane is finally softening to it, letting myself cry, allowing myself to feel the weight of it, to sort of go limp against it. Thank you for this beautiful post. Like so many things you write, I wish I could carry it with me at all times and always remember these things. xo

    • Posted by:  susan

      You are doing bodhisattva work every time you soften. Love, S

  • Posted by:  Kimberley McGill

    thank you for this Susan. I felt so weary and sad yesterday as well. today I feel the sadness still, but the weariness has faded. I said yesterday I am grateful for the sadness (though not how beings suffer) because it means I have peeled away some layers of anger and cynism wich were the way I tried to protect my heart.

    The whole post is meaningful and beneficial for me. One thing in particular that jumped out, ” I can be careful and respectful in the way I talk to you, and not just that—in the way I think about you.” yes. the way we think about one another matters so much. So much. Thank you again.

    • Posted by:  susan

      I’m so happy you picked up on that line, Kimberley. I think it is the most important of the piece. Sending love, S

  • Posted by:  Bo Mackison

    Thank you, Susan. I have been on a crying jag myself, and feeling that it isn’t my place to be in tears because I am OK, my family is OK, but I am so in turmoil as I encounter suffering all around me. And yes, I am so tired, and on the edge, and so I was grateful to read your words, and to listen to the Blue Skies’ riff, and to once more remember that I can make a difference by my attitude towards others — respectful in the way I speak, and in the way I think. Yes. Thank you.

    • Posted by:  susan

      Bo, I can really relate to what you are saying and I’m sure others can too. It takes so much courage to face our world and to remember that softening toward it all is what helps the most. Love, S

  • Posted by:  Cathy

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Susan and for sharing your heart and truth so often. Your way of being, living, teaching, and, yes, crying in the world (!) is a tremendous inspiration to me and often helps me to feel more connected to myself, my circle, and the larger world as well as to reach deep inside to share my own heart and truth, whenever possible. With great gratitude! Cathy

    • Posted by:  susan

      Cathy, it means so much to hear this… With love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Karen

    Susan – thank you for writing this piece. I so hear/feel you. and – I so love this song, too. It connects me to so many layers of feeling – feeling young and the world so wide open full of possibilities, and feeling older, and so full of experiences and memories. Love and loss, disappointment and discovery, our own pain, witnessing the pain of loved ones. I was on the phone tonight with a dear friend who had a recall after a mammogram, and she said they gave her no less than six additional x-rays, until finally she said, “That’s enough!” Fortunately, the breast was clear of any cancer, and she spoke of how sweet living an ordinary day really is. Feed the cat, eat your soup, stoke the fire, brush your teeth. Rejoice! XO

    • Posted by:  susan

      Karen, I feel your heart in this! And I’m so glad your friend got the all-clear. Here’s to the joys of every day– xo S

  • Posted by:  Adrianne Pamplin

    Thank you Susan. I’ve been depressed about the same things. Others, people and animal, pain actually hurts me. I see sadness and meanness everywhere and it seems to be getting worse. I will focus more on connectivity. I tend to be an introverted writer and artist and don’t realize I need people most of the time. It’s hard to get out of my safe space and mingle. I do, however, try and say kind and encouraging things to those I meet. It feels like a requirement as a human being. I still have a hard time, just like you described, going about my daily life and not feeling all the pain and injustice everywhere. I need to get more involved with the Open Heart Project and not internalize all my feelings and think no one cares. Thanks again, Susan.

    • Posted by:  susan

      Adrianne, please be very gentle with yourself. This is what creates the foundation for compassion. Tears will come when they come… Love, S

  • Posted by:  Adrianne Pamplin

    P.S. I can’t seem to cry at all anymore. The pain is too deep down. I would like to have a good cry when I’m in pain, but the tears never come.

  • Posted by:  Edie Weinstein


    Clearly I woke up at 4 something this morning so I could read this(: My dear friend Peggy sent it to me in response to something I wrote for Elephant Journal and have been experiencing since this Spring….a melting of the protective covering over my heart. I had grown it for just such a purpose as you describe here; pseudo safety from suffering. As an empath, it can be challenging at times to avoid taking on the pain around me. I have to remind myself that if it’s not mine, I release it. Not that I stop caring, but instead stop carrying. Tears have been my daily companion since April when I came back from a weekend retreat, finally beginning to feel the loss of my parents (dad in 2008 and mom in 2010), the death of my husband in 1998, the challenges in that marriage, the ectopic pregnancy that occurred the same year as he was diagnosed with Hep C and we lost our home to Hurricane Andrew (all 1992) and the 6 years of care giving that followed until he died. Repression of my own pain, since “after all, others are suffering more,” I reasoned, has now contributed to the walls crumbling, the tears cascading, the pain present. I also reason that it makes me a more compassionate therapist , writer and teacher…all grist for the mill. Thank you for the beauty and brilliance of your from the heart words. <3

    • Posted by:  susan

      Wow, Edie, just–wow. I hope you are taking it slow and being very kind to yourself– xo S

      • Posted by:  Edie Weinstein

        Much more slowly and gently of necessity and by demands of loving and supportive friends(: <3

        • Posted by:  susan


  • Posted by:  venus john

    wonderful article…

    • Posted by:  susan

      Many thanks.

  • Posted by:  Lauren Kael

    Dear Susan,
    I’ve just now read this post. I very deeply appreciate the subtle nuances as to how sorry and beauty are all intertwined. Thank you so much for sharing your genuine-ness with the world!


    • Posted by:  susan

      I’m so glad this touched you, Lauren.

  • Posted by:  Sidney

    Susan, there is suffering and there is the relief of suffering. You and all of us can do something about the lobster tails ripped from a living lobster. Your column baffled me because its “poor me, I am so sensitive” is actually a recipe for inertia and acceptance of the unacceptable. If everyone had your attitude six year old kids in the USA would still be working in factories and drinking fountains in the south would still be segregated. I am sure you would feel very bad about that, but hey, life is suffering so why try to make anything better?

    • Posted by:  susan

      I am sorry you see it this way, Sidney. I am trying to help relieve suffering in the ways that I can and I’m sure you are too.

      I’d like to point out that I feel attacked by you and it is my impulse to attack back. This, I think, creates the kind of situation that we both wish to alleviate.


      PS It’s true, I often fall prey to “poor me, I’m so sensitive.”

      • Posted by:  Sidney

        Susan, you provide a wonderful service with your meditations, and I look forward to them and often share them with others. But just because we can’t stop suffering everywhere doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak up when we see injustice or cruelty. For example when we see something so horrific as a lobster tail ripped from a living lobster, a polite request to speak to the seafood manager could be a start. Maybe he or she feels awful about it too and is just waiting for input. Since you set your blog in a grocery store, I can only say that as consumers, we each have tremendous opportunities to lessen suffering through what we choose to eat. If we demand produce grown sustainably and meat from animals treated humanely, our demands will make a difference. I volunteered in a dog shelter for several years, and it was frustrating when visitors’ reactions were “I want to adopt them all, and since I can’t do that, I would be too overwhelmed with sadness to do anything.” The fact was that they would be doing a great service if they would only walk one dog. If we pick manageable ways to interact, we can all reduce suffering. Just make one complaint to one seafood manager. Just write one letter. Just walk one dog.

        • Posted by:  susan

          Thank you for the kind words about the meditations.

          I didn’t see anyone ripping lobsters into parts. I imagined that, feared that. It turned out not to be the case. (I’m thinking from your email that is what you think I witnessed, although I’m not sure.)

          Of course we can all make our thoughts known by our actions, choices, and words and everyone should speak up when they witness cruelty. I’m not sure what I wrote that indicated I thought otherwise. Further, as a writer and as a person, I reserve the right to address the points that seem salient to me, not you. I hope you understand that this is no disrespect, nor is it a disagreement with your points.

  • Posted by:  Dale Rogerson

    What a beautiful post, Susan (Thanks Joy from Joyfully Green for introducing me to you!)

    I so know that feeling when the smallest thing makes me cry and when it happens, I wonder what is wrong with me. Nothing is wrong with me! I am simply more in tune with my emotions and feeling more deeply than at other times.

    Why, oh why would anyone “diss” this post is beyond me. I love it and am subscribing this instant!

    • Posted by:  susan

      Glad you enjoyed it, Dale. True, nothing is wrong with you! And PS, I think the person who “dissed” had misunderstood me.

  • Posted by:  :Lois

    This was absolutely beautiful. There is much suffering in the world, so much so that it becomes overwhelming. I came to the realization almost 3 years ago, that I can’t help everyone, but I can be there for those I love and can offer a smile or kind word to a passer-by. as for music, it has the power to totally transform my moods.

    • Posted by:  susan

      This is so lovely…

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