I’m going to share part of a poem. And I’d better warn you ahead of time, it’s morbid. Like the Great Word from my previous post, I heard about this poem in the book When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa, by Peter Godwin, a journalist who grew up in Zimbabwe. (I realized today that I didn’t tell you where I’d gotten that word from. So, now you have the reference, in case you wondered. You can read the first chapter of the book here.)
The poem is about death. Peter Godwin quotes it when he is talking about Zulu graves, which are dug under aloe plants, because they are poisonous to hyenas. Hyenas, of course, are scavengers, and so this is a way of protecting the bodies of those who have died. I’m not quoting the poem to make a point about death. Nor am I quoting it to make the same point the author makes. You can read the whole thing to discover that point (follow the link with the title below). I’m quoting the following part of the poem to make a point about life.
by Rudyard Kipling
After the burial-parties leave
And the baffled kites have fled
The wise hyaenas come out at eve
To take account of the dead.
How he died and why he died
Troubles them not a whit
They snout the bushes and stones aside
And dig till they come to it.
They are only resolute that they shall eat
That they and their mates shall thrive,
And they know that the dead are safer meat
Than the weakest thing alive.
“The weakest thing alive”.
I have been thinking about some friends lately who are feeling very weakened. Well, to be honest, there are days when I still feel impossibly and overwhelmingly weak. There are days when I am not too encouraged by people who comment on how strong I seem to be and their admiration for how I’m making it through various trials. They may see strength, but it feels like I must be faking whatever they see, because in reality I’m about to collapse just around the next corner.
When I, myself, recently alluded to a friend’s strength in an awful situation, she was adamant that she is not strong, that she feels weak and broken and barely able to keep going.
And so, in one way, I want to make space for that weakness. To not forget to grieve with the one who feels weak and broken. To acknowledge how real that place of weakness is. To not minimize it with platitudes. To give comfort to the place where my friend is hurting and afraid and weak.
But, in another way, I want to acknowledge that the weakest thing alive is still…well, alive. And that is a good thing. That, in itself, is a huge thing. That is a sign of strength. The hyenas know it is so.
You might feel weak today, even when a friend is looking at your situation and calling you strong (saying not so helpful things like, “I could never make it through what you are going through”). And I want to say, You’re both right. You’re right about your weakness. And your friend is right in calling you strong.
You are acutely aware of your own weakness. And your feelings which recognize that weakness are not lying. God, who knows we are but dust also knows your weakness (and is not dismayed nor surprised by it).
But you are also strong. Today, again, whether it was conscious or not, you have chosen life. You got out of bed when you felt dismay and despair with your first breath. You took that breath and chose to keep going. You are still going, no matter how stumbling and flailing you are in the going. You may not know where the next breath will come from. You may not be able to comprehend how you are going to take the next step. You may feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. You may feel that you are “the weakest thing alive”.
My friend, that gasping for breath and stumbling along with the next step is its own kind of strength, and I want to celebrate that with you and for you, even while I grieve alongside of you the brokenness and pain and feel your uncertainty about how you are going to keep going. I don’t know how you are going to make it. I don’t know what the next step should be. But, I want to tell you that I’m glad that you are still living and still going, in spite of all that has happened to you. All the things that you have faced and are continuing to face have weakened you. But you are still going, and you are not “safe meat” for the hyenas.
Who am I talking to now that I’ve switched to the 2nd person? No one in particular and at the same time a few people specifically (most of whom don’t even read this blog). Maybe I’m giving myself a pep talk here. Certainly, the poem encouraged me in a way that also made me smile (A two-for-one bonus!). And it made me think of and pray for one friend, in particular, who is feeling especially weak tonight.
Maybe I’m talking to you, too. I’m not sure.
If you are feeling yourself to be the weakest thing alive, I hope that even in that, you can stop a moment, smile and acknowledge the strength God has still granted you. The strength to keep going against all odds, when you have felt the pull to collapse and give up, from every side and many times.