Friday, March 25, 2016

Notes Towards a Poem That Can Never Be Written

"The facts of this world seen clearly
are seen through tears;
why tell me then
there is something wrong with my eyes?

To see clearly and without flinching,
without turning away,
this is agony, the eyes taped open
two inches from the sun." - Margaret Atwood

Part of my girlfriend's job involves resettling Syrian refugees.  After experiencing almost unspeakable horrors in their home country, these people have now traveled halfway across the world to a foreign city searching for something better.  Which they don't always find.  The cold and the grey of a Canadian winter, even as it begins to melt into spring, isn't always inviting.  The residents of my city too aren't always welcoming towards more people who will need government support (more taxes on the already overtaxed) to establish themselves.  The low-income housing into which people are placed doesn't always match with the image of an affluent Canadian city.  Life here can be hard.

And so they talk.  They talk about many of the sad things from their pasts and about the disappointment that they don't leave the sadness behind when they physically leave their country.  They talk to my girlfriend, and she listens because she's a good person and can feel these people's need to unburden themselves, if only a little.  With each story, each heartbreaking story, some of the weight of their experience transfers from them to her.  Their loads lighten, hers becomes heavier.

And I see it in her.  I see it in how she laughs a little bit less and seems a little bit more distracted when we talk.  I see it when I awaken in the night, and she is already awake, her mind unable to rest.  And I know what it is like, to bear witness to the suffering of others, and to feel powerless.

And I wonder, how do we - the doctors, the nurses, the social workers, the myriad of helpers - stay intact?  How do we witness these things and not be destroyed by them?  How do we keep coming back, day after day, offering what little we have to offer, when all we see is the neverending need?


  1. To be honest, I'm not sure that we do stay intact.

  2. A lot of social workers and other helpers do burn out.

    These are really important jobs and your girlfriend is helping so many people. She is a wonderful person.