Welcome to Day 2 of 31 Days of Kissing the Wounds, a month of posts about the beauty, longing, and soul inherent in our damaged selves; in the world’s brokenness; in the imperfection, incompleteness, and transience of all that we love; in our recognition of each other as the walking wounded; and in the jagged, messy, splintery, deformed, sullied, unhealed parts of me, you, the natural world, our communities, the culture. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others.
Jane Siberry’s “Bound by the Beauty” is a haunting, evocative love song to the natural world. In the opening lines, she alludes to the fragility and sense of impending loss we feel about the natural world these days, changing at a much more rapid rate than in the past (imperfect cartoon) , when she warns “I’m coming back in 500 years / And the first thing I’m gonna do / When I get back here / Is to see these things I love / And they’d better be here.”
I doubt that many of these things she loves, and I love, will still be here in 500 years, even with all the love we humans can muster, because we can’t seem to muster much for what seems far away in time and place; our urgent, nearby, immediate crises consume us. Bacteria, algae, horseshoe crabs, sponges, gingkos, liverworts, and ferns may persist in spite of us.
But — we’re here, now, and the verdant earthness is here now, the unfetteredness, the slowness of the falling leaves, the southness of the geese, all still here. The rest of the song (listen to it) names some of the beloved places, plants, sensations:
First I’m going to find a forest
And stand there in the trees
And kiss the fragrant forest floor
And lie down in the leaves
And listen to the birds sing
The sweetest sound you’ll ever hear
And everything the dappled
Everything the birds
Everything the earthness
Everything the verdant
The verdant green
Then I’m going to find an open field
And lie down in the flowers
And then I’m going to find a guitar
And play play play for hours
And then I’m going to find a river
To see what kind of body in
And everything the granite
Everything the kiss
Everything the earthness
Everything the verdant
The verdant dream
I’m bound by the beauty
I’m bound by desire
I’m bound to keep returning
I’m bound by the beauty of the light
The slightest change
The constant rearrange
Of light upon the land
I’m bound by the beauty of the wind
That blows across the earth
The unfetteredness the wheatness
And through the flying hair
The slowness of the falling leaves
Across this warm November door
And the geese the flying southness
The arms out evermore
I’m bound by the snow
The soft the fallingness
The everupward face…
The everupward face…
Bound by the sunsets
Listening to this lyrical paean to the world we live in, I became aware of the many definitions of the English word “bound.”
It’s a noun, a verb, an adjective.
To bound is to leap or jump, and the derived word, rebound, means to leap again, to bounce back.
Bound is the past tense of “bind,” to tie or wrap together tightly, to bandage … as a wound. Broken limbs are bound, too, to help them knit back together.
Being bound means to be under constraints or restraints — obligated by circumstances, law, or duty, tied to something such that we can’t escape it without serious consequences.
Being bound means to be fastened together and secure, safely, like items on a ship are bound to it to protect them from being swept away, or like an object encircled by metal bands, in order to strengthen it.
Being bound means to be held in a chemical or physical combination; elements or ingredients come together and interact in a relationship to produce something new.
Being bound means to be on the way towards, to be on a journey, intending to do something, heading somewhere, determined.
Any of these four could be what Siberry intends by “bound” in “I’m bound by the beauty / I’m bound by desire.” Tied, attached, inspired.
To be “bound to” means to be certain or likely to (“I’m bound to keep returning”)
Bounds are limits, delimiters, boundary markers. Some things are “out of bounds.”
“Bound” in all these senses seems to me related to what damages us, how we damage ourselves and others, how we damage the earth and what’s on the earth. Just a few thoughts; I’d love to hear yours.
We erect boundaries — national, state, local, within and among relationships, inside ourselves, in the realm of ideas (good, evil, pure, tainted, mine, yours) — and then we decide who and what is out of bounds, exiled, not allowed inside, not part of our territory. We go to war, as countries and as individuals, over trespassed boundaries. It’s not boundaries that damage us (as anyone in an abusive relationship can tell you, boundaries can be necessary); it’s our fixation on them, how lines in the sand become etched in stone. And it’s that we use boundaries to justify thinking of others as enemies, and to rationalise what we can do to someone else (or to other species, to the land, the air, the water) without compunction, based on our group and personal boundaries.
Most of us feel intuitively that some actions are out of bounds for us, and travelling within our own boundaries (which may change over time) keeps us (and society) from breaking down, from damaging our integrity … though of course we all do trespass our own lines of conviction, step outside the property lines … and sometimes that’s how we learn that our boundaries have been drawn by others, not by us, and they don’t fit us anymore.
When I think about being “bound by the beauty,” it’s the chosen constraint of that relationship that feels important to me; that is, because I am bound by the beauty, the light, the desire, the fire, I have a responsibility to it (in the same way that people who marry and become bound to each other have a responsibility to each other — or why commit, why bind?). If I am bound to the earth, I have a responsibility to it. And I am bound to the earth, to the beauty of its wholeness and its brokenness.
We bind ourselves to each other in so many complex, multi-layered ways. Sometimes we bind ourselves too tightly, possessively, to someone else, afraid to let go; sometimes we need to be bound to others for emotional and spiritual well-being.
We bind ourselves to groups against other groups, perhaps at first because we share common values and visions, and then over time we may solidify our group identity, becoming unable or unwilling to let go of a sense of us/them, reducing our capacity for compassion for those not in our group (this is not hard to notice in the political arena).
In personal relationships, we may try to hold on to others to give us emotional stability, even when that stability is not stable but shaky, constructed of a false and tattered fabric. (More on this later, but lines from The Perishers’ song “Pills” come to mind: “One may think we’re alright / But we need pills to sleep at night / We need lies to make it through the day / We’re not okay — “)
Or, we may work towards a stronger, more resilient community, binding ourselves together in a way that enables us to rebound in hard times, a community able to notice the damage — environmental, societal, interpersonal — and to examine it closely without flinching, maybe even able to help prevent or mend it. Or perhaps to at least bandage it, to bind its brokenness with a temporary salve and dressing that can support a healing process.
But some (much?) brokenness can never be fully healed; it can only be, at best, bound together, hanging on for dear life, the pain dulled, the bones held if not completely put back together, the wound a scar, no longer suppurating. We can’t fix everything that’s not perfect. Everyone is damaged. Some of us are healing, whether we want to or not, and some of us are bleeding, and some of us are healing and bleeding. It’s commonly said that “we grow strong in the broken places,” but that strength, like a scar or callus, is also a hardening, a protection of our vulnerability, signalling an inability to be hurt, which is a kind of damage of its own, I think.
Being bound usually carries with it the sense of being unified. Unity, though, is paradoxical for us: Unity is what makes us a strong and vibrant community (or political party, or family, or couple, or nation); and it’s what makes one community hate, envy, be oblivious to, and prefer itself over others. Unity strengthens integrity, our values and actions unified and bound together as one; and it’s what makes us rigid, unable to see or hear another perspective, afraid to risk the security that comes with feeling certain and virtuous. Unity helps us feel a sense of stable identity, when we’re bound to certain ways of being, ways of seeing, ideals, values, preferences, people; and it can give us the illusion of a stable identity when in reality it’s all smoke and mirrors, contrived preferences, adopted ideals, confusion and anxiety at the heart of the self, a false self that needs defending. Unity gives us a sense of joining with others to uphold abstract goods (like patriotism, progressiveness, altruism); and it allows us to feel that because we espouse a lofty belief, we embody it, and because others don’t unite under our banner, they are abstractly and personally other, wrong, bad. Damaged, in fact.
But we do damage to ourselves and everything else, I think, when we point to others’ brokenness without noticing our own. We are bound together as humans in part by our tendency to do just this, to accuse others of arrogance, meanness, small-mindedness, laziness, fill-in-the-blank-with-the-trait-you-despise-most, while excusing our own foibles. We bind ourselves, limit ourselves to a territory narrowly in our inability to see that we’re all broken, all rebounding from a sucker punch to the gut. The lines before those I quoted earlier from The Perishers’ song “Pills” are “I hope my love / Can blind you / I hope my arms / Can bind you / So you’ll never have to see / What we’ve grown to be.” But seeing and naming what we’ve grown to be, who we are, in relationship to each other, in the world and on the earth — noticing that we’re wounded wrecks who wound and wreck others, or as Natalie Merchant describes it in her song, “My Skin,” “a slow dying flower / Frost killing hour / The sweet turning sour / And untouchable” — seems to me a step towards repairing our mutual damage, kissing the wounds.
In the words of yet another song, Casting Crowns’ Broken Together, about a married couple but easily read in a much larger societal context:
Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete
Could we just be broken together
If you can bring your shattered dreams and I’ll bring mine
Could healing still be spoken and save us
The only way we’ll last forever is broken together
Thanks for checking in. Be sure to see what the other 31 Dayers are writing about.