Of Sows and Selves

Sow and pigletEarly on in my public shaming ordeal, when the frenzied media were spewing speculation and misinformation was spreading like a virus, I began regularly attending services at a Buddhist dharma center near my home. One day the teacher shared a poem that moved me deeply. It is titled, Saint Francis and the Sow, by Galway Kinnell.

The bud
Stands for all things,
Even those that don’t flower,
For everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
Though sometimes it is necessary
To reteach a thing its loveliness,
To put a hand on its brow
Of the flower
And retell it in words and touch
It is lovely
Until it flowers again, from within, of self-blessing;
As Saint Francis
Put his hand on the creased forehead
Of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
Blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
Began remembering all down her thick length,
From the earthen snout all the way
Through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
From the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
Down through the great broken heart
To the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
From the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
The long, perfect loveliness of sow.

The poem stirred something deep within, my own desire to relearn, to be told in words and touch.  I found myself thinking of it often over the next days.  Then, not long after, with the media feeding frenzy still in full force, an organization that I cared about deeply asked me resign from the board because they feared the media would turn on them due to their association with me.

Their abandonment and willingness to throw me away cut me to the quick.  At that moment it felt as though the media assault was taking everything from me — my reputation, my work, my relationships, my identity.   When I got off the phone with my once fellow board members, I crumbled into deep, spine racking sobs.  John held me.  It was the hardest I had ever cried in front of him.  As my tears and shudders began to ease he reached out and stroked my forehead and said, “You’re a beautiful person Cylvia.  You care so deeply about things.”  With his hand on my brow I recalled the poem and “the perfect loveliness of sow,” and I felt a flutter of the perfect loveliness of myself.

I came across this poem again just the other day and now, with all these months of distance, I am deeply and profoundly grateful for the healing that has taken place, for the growth I am experiencing.  I can see, now, that in the process of losing so much that I was deeply attached to, I found truth and a depth of self-approval I’ve never known before.  It is a lovely gift that has taken decades to unwrap.

Right now, in this moment, as I reflect on all that has taken place these past many months, as I am thinking of the long, thick loveliness of sow, I am so deeply grateful to those who saw the loveliness in me when others would not and I, at times, could not.

Cylvia Hayes

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