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The Bridge of Well-Being

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Message Mark Nepo
Ideologies separate us.
Dreams and anguish bring us together.
--Eugene Ionesco

 I was at a conference in Florida, a Jewish-Catholic gathering in which believers were trying to understand each other's suffering. At last, there was a tiredness of debating ideas and varying points of faith. And weathered old souls gathered like birds appearing from trees to nibble at God's bread finally left out in the open.

It was late in the day, amid the scattering of coffee cups, that a tall, thin man with clumps of white hair and thick glasses shuffled to the microphone perched in the aisle. His back was slightly curved in a permanent bow. He started several times, clearing his throat, as if climbing the years to this ordinary day. He had been in Buchenwald and, in those early months of '45, he knew the end of the war was near. A sudden air of liberation filled the yard with whispers. And one day, for some reason, he felt it was very close, the way birds know a storm is near by how the wind skirts the leaves. So, he hid in a garbage can for seven days, enduring the dark and the hunger and the largeness of every noise without sight.

After an unthinkable hiding, he felt the lid start to lift and didn't know if it was a German about to shoot him or an American bringing him back to a life he could barely remember. In that instant, he almost collapsed from the pounding of his heart. It took a few seconds for his eyes to focus. He was still there. It was then he saw the shape of the helmet. It was American and he began to weep.

There was a profound silence in the room as the old man wiped his eyes. As he started to shuffle back to his chair, another old man stood up, his voice shaking as he uttered, “I was that soldier,” and they teetered to each other and fell into each other's arms.

I don't know how to describe what happened in that moment. In all outward appearance, it looked quite ordinary. Nothing around us stopped. Traffic came and went. The ocean surf kept breaking. Young boys kept stocking shelves in nearby supermarkets. But two broken pieces in the foundation of the Universe fit perfectly together and everyone in the room knew it. And more than these two were healed. We were all healed in a place that is hard to reach. It is strange yet constant that the breaking apart in the Universe is often loud while the coming together is often quiet.

Things will always break apart and come together. Yet, in our pain, we often lose sight that each cocoon must break so the next thing can fly. It is our curse and blessing to die and be born so many times.


These reflections are excerpts from several books, including a new book of poems, Surviving Has Made Me Crazy, CavanKerry Press, and a new book of spiritual non-fiction, Facing the Lion, Being the Lion: Inner Courage and Where It Lives, Red Wheel/Conari Press. For more info, please visit .
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Mark Nepo is a poet and philosopher who has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for over thirty years. He has written several books including Facing the Lion, Being the Lion: Finding Inner Courage Where It Lives and Surviving Has Made Me (more...)
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The Bridge of Well-Being

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