My heart is sore today. The pain is raw and it feels as if a giant chasm of emptiness stretches out in front of me. The loss of my gentle companion, a feline that provided me immeasurable comfort and joy for years and in some of my darkest hours, has struck me deeper than I imagined. There are layers to this pain, indeed. But our modern life often robs us of the agency to express our pain or sorrow out of fear of judgement or ridicule, especially when it is related to the loss of a non-human being. It is all too often trivialized. And this trivialization has become normalized.
But of course, I am reminded that this is the same societal paradigm that has trivialized the living biosphere itself. It is a pathology which has allowed for its wholesale destruction for the accumulation of coin and the lure of convenience for the few. If the cries of the billions of species it crushes under its busy, productive feet were made audible, the entire human species would be permanently deafened from the colossal lament.
Whenever I am in pain, I retreat to the world of imagination, and music, and art. Today I came across this self portrait of Frida Kahlo done in 1940. I have a small replica I bought as a souvenir in Mexico City years ago. As is the case with most of Kahlo’s paintings, this one is drenched in symbolism.
The hummingbird, usually a symbol of life and vitality, is dead and hanging from a necklace of thorns. Thorns which pierce Frida’s delicate skin. Perhaps it is reminiscent of Christ’s crown of thorns and the pain he suffered carrying the weight of the world’s sorrows. Or perhaps it is Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war, and perhaps it is its weight that is causing her injury. And the butterflies and dragonflies on her head may be symbols of resurrection or renewal. But the neckless is being held by a black monkey, perhaps a symbol of the indifferent torment she endured throughout her life. And a black cat, one very much the appearance of the dear loved one I just lost, stands just to the back of her. Although she is undoubtedly in pain from the thorns, Frida stands calmly, stoically, as if daring the world to hurt her more.
As I pondered the meaning of this portrait I thought about her life, one fraught with disappointment, rejection, grief and extreme physical pain from a horrendous streetcar accident when she was only 18 years old. Along with a tumultuous relationship with artist Diego Rivera, she had to endure at least 35 agonizing surgeries on her spine and body throughout her entire life. She was often bedridden for months at a time. And yet there she is, staring it all down. Through the pain into quiet dignity. Frida actually had a monkey and a black cat, among other animals, birds and plants. I marveled at the many photographs of her holding them and caring for them when I visited her home, Casa Azul, in Mexico City.
Frida lived her life as an open wound, open for the world to see. She displayed her pain as one would display an accessory to wear out to the market or to a concert. It was beautiful because it was true. And this gave me a peculiar sort of strength. We cannot traverse this terrestrial plane without facing pain, and loss, and sorrow. Again and again and again. Bursting through the walls of our heart. These are the very signatures of life and of love. And in a time of unprecedented ecocide and endless assaults on our biosphere by a society unable to face or grapple with its demons and shadows, continuously numbed by distraction, and spectacle, and avarice, and substances, and cruelty, and materialism, unable to feel its pain, we are called to do just that. Face it. And express our pain, and loss, and sorrow. Publicly. Daring the world to hurt us again. Because, without a doubt, it will. It will break your heart. But remember this, it is only the broken heart that has the capacity to expand.
Kenn Orphan December 2020