Saturday, August 9, 2008

'This world was still asking things of us that we had to give.'

There are some things that fill us with grief for a moment and are quickly lifted. Some things are heavy and will not leave us easily or soon. Yesterday, I was reminded of several sadnesses that I have shared with others. Many of my friends and I were shaken almost three years ago by the death of a dear friend from college. She committed suicide and it cast a shadow over all of us that still comes back to us at times. Less than a year ago, the closest friend of a dear friend of mine died unexpectedly and suddenly. Then there was my friend who felt the loss of closeness in relationship with her family. All these things have been the source of such grief.
As I wandered around a bookstore yesterday, I stumbled upon this story "Stand By Me" by Wendell Berry. It made me cry because it was so beautiful in a tragic sort of a way. He touched that little part of me that was trying to make sense of the losses that we experience and do not know how to get out from under.
"And yet their absence puts them with you in a way they never were before. You even maybe know them better than you did before. They stay with you, and in a way you go with them. They don’t live on in your heart, but your heart knows them. As your heart gets bigger on the inside, the world gets bigger on the outside. If the dead were alive only in this world, you would forget them, looks like, as soon as they die. But you remember them, because they always were living in the other, bigger world while they lived in this little one, and this one and the other one are the same. You can’t see this with your eyes looking straight ahead. It’s with your side vision, so to speak, that you see it. The longer I live, and the better acquainted I am among the dead, the better I see it. I am telling what I know."
What is difficult is when people who are still living become like strangers, it is as if they die. They die not in the sense that they have become removed from us but, you become more aware of them as the alienation grows stronger. A ruptured relationship is a lot like death because the thought of those people are with you more than if there was nothing wrong. How strange! The very people who hurt and alienate us will, in some ways, never leave us. We will carry them with us as we carry the dead.

I am someone who cries when I feel sad. You can pretty much count on me crying if something happens that deserves some tears. But, the fact that I express myself freely goes for all my emotions. I will generally be quite expressive with my joy and happiness as well. Not long ago, a friend pointed out that I had stopped smiling and that there was a perpetual gloom that surrounded me. It was hard to understand and I found myself confused at my own despair.

During that time, someone --probably the same friend-- asked me if I like to cry more than I liked to smile and laugh. I couldn't help but admit that I would rather smile than cry. 'Then why don't you smile more?' was the obvious question. I realized that I was afraid that if I smiled I would be acting. I felt that smiling would be pretending that the pain wasn't there. Slowly, I decided that my logic was wrong. Yes, perhaps, there is such a thing as fake joy but, life is paradoxical. I can, without being dishonest, be happy and sad at the same time.

As I tried to understand how to respond to the pain inside, I realized that there was room in the grief to just move on.

"Even so, this place is not a keepsake just to look at and remember. You can’t stop just because you’re carrying a load of grief and would like to stop, or don’t care if you go on or not. Jarrat nor I either didn’t stop. This world was still asking things of us that we had to give."

'This world was still asking things of us that we had to give.' This is where I realize that I can move forward. I can be sad and cry and happy and smile with the grief and the joy all mixed up inside of me. My grief moves me forward as a comforter for others and my joy moves me forward to wonder at the beauty that other people bring to life. I like to smile more than I like to cry so, today, when I feel like I have a lot of reasons to cry I think I'm going to smile (unless, of course, you want to give me a hug and then a couple lost tears might stream down my face).

1 comment:

jwpmeinen said...

a beautiful post; thanks for sharing. (and how good is wendell berry!)

live the questions now... R.M. Rilke