I will take with me the emptiness of my hands
What you do not have you find everywhere
I read and reread these final lines of WS Merwin’s poem “Provision” a few dozen times this morning. Merwin reached out from the grave, as so many dead poets do, to speak to me this morning, as I sit and reflect and now count my days, even hours remaining. Here. In America. Here—in San Diego. Here—with my mom.
My mom, who would always say to me, we come into this world hungry with love, and it’s the parents’ job to give that first visceral knowing that we are loved and if they don’t we go out into the world with empty hands. Seeking.
And she tried. And she did. But she couldn’t protect me from everything. Everyone. Nor could I, when it my turn to become a mama.
But now, reading Merwin’s words, I wonder if maybe that ache to know we are loved is maybe an existential longing that can never be fully felt. Or filled. That longing, what CS Lewis described as …the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have not visited, can actually never be fully filled. Those empty hands maybe are designed always to be wanting.
For, if we are satisfied, we stop looking.
Yet, simultaneously, Merwin is telling us that, that which we seek is there. It is everywhere, he says. As Rumi wrote, the grief you cry out from draws you toward union. Or Rilke, open your depths by plunging into them and drink in the life that reveals itself quietly there.
Maybe it’s so hard to leave my mom because I always looked to her to be the filler of my cup and she did, so well, as best she could. But, it’s not her job, nor anyone’s really to fill it. Completely. Nor even ours.
Perhaps this is what the artists and poets and philosophers and mystics and scientists and parents and lovers have done since the beginning of time—is try to fill the emptiness of hands. And perhaps it is only in the emptiness we feel, we see the flashes of light, the secrets hidden in every moment, of what cannot be named, only alluded to, but fill the soul and the hands with knowing.
One thought on “The Emptiness of Hands”
. . . . And maybe the only one that can fill the soul and the hands with knowing is God. Is this the tree in the Garden of Eden? The Tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Every day is another day to be filled with God’s love and spread that love out into this world.