make something beautiful from the pain in the world

A few weeks after I turned 21, I moved a thousand miles away from my hometown and my family to work for a non-profit organization called Justice For All. Much of my time there was spent listening to tragic stories, helping people to process difficult issues, and exposing myself to some of the world’s ugliest truths. It was a rough time.

{my process & my poem}

I remember being on a walk in a beautiful hundred-year-old neighborhood wrestling with the idea of art in light of suffering; how could I enjoy beauty when there was so much ugliness demanding my attention? As I walked and cried and clenched my fists, a phrase came to mind: “I must make something beautiful with the pain in the world.” I realized that one of the best ways to respond to overwhelming ugliness is to celebrate beauty.

I let the idea simmer for a few days before writing this poem:

the pain in the world is great
suffering… misery… torture, even
and here I am making a masterpiece

why even bother?

what good will a painting do
while a child is dying?
how can a poem be worth writing
while books are being burned?
who wants to compose music
while the martyrs are screaming?

my ink is blood, sweat, and tears
my palette holds the colors of fire and water
my notes are the heart-cry of tortured souls
because I must make something beautiful from the pain in the world

{today’s exercise}

Create beauty in the face of ugliness. Approach something ugly that you would rather avoid and respond to it with beauty. Be willing to cry or clench your fists as you confront it. Turn it around until you find beauty in it that you can write about, or craft a beautiful poem to counteract it, like I’ve done.