The other day I was browsing through my library, wondering what novel to read next, and eye caught an 18-year old novel by Alice Walker, Now Is the Time To Open Your Heart. Though I had read it when it was first published, I had forgotten about it. It was the title that arrested my attention. It seemed to be of a piece with her volume of stories, The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart. I also thought of James Ford’s book on Zen, If You’re Lucky Your Heart Will Break.
Now, one usually thinks of a broken heart as something sad, something hard to bear, even devastating. But think about a river in Northern Canada, say the Yukon. In winter, it freezes completely shut. No water flows until spring. But in spring, the ice breaks open and the water flows again. Suppose we think about a broken heart, not as having shattered into shards, but as having broken open, like the Yukon in spring. Then what?
Walker’s book tells the parallel stories of Kate and her partner, Yolo, who find themselves stuck in their lives, each in their own way. Their hearts have become closed, frozen. Kate even had closed down her meditation practice, covering her Buddha statue with a cloth. A clear metaphor for her covering her Buddha-nature as if it were lost. Kate’s way back involves a pilgrimage into the Northwest Amazon jungle with a Native American shaman who guides her using a drug called, in Kechua, Ayahuasca. Yolo’s journey takes him to Hawaii and an unexpected encounter with a native Kuma, what we might call a spiritual guide.
There is much to learn in this book. Consider a few quotations:
- …the magic of the mystery we’re in just goes on and on.
- Being of one mind. That is peace. The material and the spiritual come together….
- It will never work to think we are exempt from madness.
- Healing cannot be done by settling a score.
But given the state of America at the moment, I found one passage to be especially striking. Kate’s group of pilgrims are talking about powerful people. Armando, the shaman, says this:
“A person is visible only when it is possible to perceive what sustains him….
“The more powerful the powerful appear the more invisible they become…. This used to work differently than now. In the old days it was said that the powerful merged with the divine and the divine was all that one saw. But now the powerful have merged with the shadow, really with death, and when you encounter them they are really hard to see….”
I read that and sat back thinking about the current state of American politics. Of course Trump became the icon. We see him all over the place, but who really sees Donald Trump, the human being? Where is he? All I ever see is the shadow of a person, a mere shell where a person might once have dwelt but is no more. Surely he was not born this way. No baby is. So when did Donald Trump die?
I thought of a recent photo of him boarding Air Force One with Barron, his young son. It is raining, and Trump is walking ahead of his son, holding an umbrella over himself and leaving Barron to walk up the stairs alone and in the rain. Trump’s body was there, but he was invisible, a mere shadow.
A couple of paragraphs later, Armando offers his opinion about what could cure this invisibility of the powerful:
“In my opinion…the only medicine that cures invisibility in the powerful is tears.”
I don’t think he means the tears of the eyes, or perhaps not those tears alone. I think he means tears of the heart, tears of the soul. I think he means that the only way a person like Trump can be reborn as a human being is to grieve his earlier death. But that grief requires the recognition that one has died. I do not think Trump realizes he has died.
I can imagine him alone at night, lonely and isolated and depressed, desperately wanting to be loved and admired but knowing he is not. I can even imagine him crying into his pillow without a clue why is soul aches. I wonder whether one reason he hates Obama so much is that he realizes Obama is invisible in the old way.
Then I remember the closing lines from Walker’s other book: “The world is not healed in the abstract. Healing begins where the wound was made.” Who will show Trump where that deep wound was made, where he died? Who will break open the ice within his heart?