Grief is a sacred journey

Interdependence

MLKMutualityQuoteI should have known sorrow would flood my heart.
I should have known grief would grab my belly and soak my face.
I should have known I’d search the crowd for my dead husband’s smile.
I should have known the power of our collective grief.

I grieve when the desperate are turned away.
I grieve when the hungry are left unfed.
I grieve for children sent to jail instead of school.
I grieve for the homeless who need another chance.

Photo by Jane Segelken

Photo by Jane Segelken

Still… hope slips in.

Hope moves me in slow careful steps, the way we moved together through peaceful streets.
Hope connects us, the way we held each other’s hands.

Because a brown-skinned man picked me up when I fell,
Because 14-year-old kids helped me over the wall,
Because I stayed close to the tall dark woman who could see above the crowd,
Because I trusted we’d get there when no one knew the way.

Because we pressed together to make room for more,
Because we believed in each other and our eyes spoke Love,
Because a policewoman’s wave turned into a big thumb’s up,
Because compassion is stronger than fear.

DSC01735Because we stand together with interpenetrating roots,
Because we need each other’s kindness to survive,
Because you pull me forward so I can help the one behind me,
Because we still move together until we find a way.

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***

img210For forty years, my husband Vic and I marched for peace and the environment. This week, my personal grief felt deeply connected to the collective grief so many of us feel. As always, when I open myself to my own grief, my heart fills with love for all who grieve. How did the outpouring of hope and love touch you? Last week, in Giving Hope a Seat Between Anxiety and Grief, I shared a photo essay about the Women’s March in Washington.

27 Comments
  1. I truly belief that everything that lives in the universe is connected. I even wrote a blog about it recently, maybe subconsciously inspired by this blog… We need each others kindness to survive 😉 Your kindness has warmed my heart often. Your courage to be open no matter what is an example. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in these hard times for America.

    • I agree, Susanne. The Dalai Lama has been a primary teacher of Kindness, but there are teachers everywhere we go. If we want a reasonable dialogue with values the United States has always stood for, it’s important to articulate those values. I’ve never felt that more. I barely mentioned my commitment to the environment and concern about climate change, but felt this was enough for now. I also experimented with a more poetic form, even though I am no poet. It just felt right. Thank you for all you do to share an enlightened attitude with the world.

  2. Dear Elaine, I’m reading your remarkable post in tears, joyful and sorrowful ones. This is breathtakingly, achingly beautiful. I stand in awe as the poet within you, takes wing today. Know this, she’s thrown my soul up high, and caught it with both hands, and no doubt, fluttered many more hearts too. Wow! What a blessing you are! Such an inspiration, I really love your spirit!

    Earlier today I read that ‘for every spade of earth that we lift to heaven, one is able to dig a shovelful of the dust of heaven and bring it down.’ And so it is for every soul, ascent and descent! Believe me this is what that looks like in words, your words, thank you so much dear poet! A thousand blessings, Deborah.

    • Oh, Deborah, I thought of you when posting this. I’m a sad substitute for a true poet like you, but I let the images lead the way. Your response is thrilling, of course, but I know the generosity of your heart. When I wrote a first draft in a writing group, others pointed out that it had a poetic rhythm. So I decided to experiment and present it in lines rather than paragraphs.

      I love the quote and will remember the image of “heaven dust.” We could use some of that around here, but I know it’s everywhere even when it’s hard to see. It’s a challenging time in my country and hard to keep negative feelings such as fear and anger from dominating, but personal interactions have been inspiring and full of love. Many open hearts. Thank you for being one of them and thank you for your blessings.

  3. I liked how your paeon for peace pivots from grief to hope. What a holy meditation . . . Thank you, Elaine.

    I listened to part of a Radio Lab presentation on NPR this past Saturday on caring, kindness and cooperation: http://www.radiolab.org/story/103951-the-good-show/ Even if you don’t have time to listen, thumbnails of the segments are instructive.

    And yes, your experimental switch from paragraphs to lines – a success! 🙂

    • A new photo of you, Marian. I looked on FB for a close-up, but the old photo is still up there. I wonder if your new website is up today.

      I don’t know how to live without hope. I look for it in the worst circumstances. When Vic was dying, hope wasn’t about prayers for him to live because his body wasn’t strong enough to go on, but I could still hope for and receive kindness, love, gentle passage, and sacred presence in the transformation. We’re in a time of upheaval, but I can hope our goodness and kindness will prevail. I can hope we’ll find a way to keep a greater peace and people with opposing opinions will find a common language.

      Ah, the experiment in writing form. Why not? I asked myself. Why not?

  4. It’s been a truly emotional week for me too Elaine. One would almost think I lived in America with my close eye on American politics. I feel a disconnect within from a man who loves power and himself more than the nation he stands for. Yes, the new order is happening, but the beauty of it is the unification of the human spirit standing up for their beliefs side by side in defense of democracy. And as long as love and patience prevails it will be victorious in the end. Amen. 🙂

    • You’re right across the border, Debby. It must be like having a close relative become alarming ill. I agree there is an outpouring of protest against what’s happening from parts of the population, but the two other branches of our government are the places where a dictatorship should be stopped. I don’t care what political party, I hope our politicians and judges have the backbone to protect our constitution. Love and patience. We/I need lots of that.

  5. So beautiful Elaine. Reading your posts opens my heart — and connects me to you my dear friend…

  6. I don’t know enough about poetry, but this strikes me as a lamentation like those from Greek history. I have read it several times this week and it fills my heart, too.

    • I don’t know much about poetry either, Jill–but it is my lament in response to my world and my inner state. I have to keep doing what I can to foster hope as grief floods in. I’m glad to know this helps in any small way.

  7. I’m re-reading this Elaine – it’s morning here in South Africa. I stayed most of yesterday and stayed the night last night with my friend who is so ill and I didn’t want to use my phone to make comment. While she sleeping in the afternoon and I was reading in her room I suddenly realised how privileged and blessed I was to just be with her – it was almost as if I was given the grace – time-wise amongst other – to just spend time with her. Nothing else mattered – just to be with her, sleeping or not. When she woke in the early evening she said she dreamed ‘Susie said I must rest, so I am resting’. This is sort of how I feel about your prose, rested … quieter, peaceful.

    In a strange way, I ordered your kindle book for myself the other day – perhaps to prepare me for when she is no longer here. I don’t know when I’ll read it but it is comforting to me to know I have it. And also in a synchronistic way, my friend in Australia to whom I gifted your book a year back whose husband died after a long illness, wrote me yesterday of how she is … to which I responded quickly, and received a response back from her this morning – how the waves of grief still wash over her … but always those treasured moments of kindness, small gestures, that mean so much …

    I’m at home now, catching up on admin among other, am setting off to her home just now – her son returns from the States this evening. Thank you for your beautiful blog.

    • I’m grateful you can spend this time with your friend, Susan. Caring for a dying person is sacred. It makes me happy that my words added to the quiet and peace. (It’s hard for me to find balance right now between action and inner work. Both must go on.)

      Thank you for buying my book for yourself. I understand your friend’s “waves of grief.” I still have those moments of intense longing for Vic. I know this is common, but most are afraid to say so because we’ll be judged harshly. When I don’t resist or judge myself, I feel strength and protection from these memories. After over 8 years, Vic is still the most common character in my dreams, usually as a positive animus figure or helper.

  8. Your voice has always been clear and honest and strong. It is becoming even more of all three, Elaine.

    I have hope knowing you are there, always searching for a way to show kindness, overcoming grief with hope.

    You gave me hope today as I prepare to teach college seniors, who will be dealing with the wreckage of these past few weeks much longer than you and I.

    I pray for our resilience.

    • You make me blush, Shirley. Thank you. Today, my oldest son who lives in NC told me his response to what’s going on in the world is to be as kind and considerate and loving as possible to every person he meets in his work and his life. I felt like Vic and I had done something right as parents. I’m sure you understand. I’m glad you are there for those graduating students. What a hard world they’re stepping into. I can’t quite imagine how daunting it must be for them and how hard to keep faith and hope. I also pray for our resilience and for the goodness of our hearts.

  9. Elaine, I so LOVED your beautiful words. It birthed so many memories for me too of my dear brother. He became a Buddhist monk and went to India with his Lama and the Dalai Lama. Sadly, it was during the Gulf War and due to the sentiment against Americans they disguised my red headed, pale-skinned, blue eyed brother by dying his hair and skin black, and hid him out in Kathmandu for three months until they snuck my brother out of the country. Sadly, he picked up parasites that went undiagnosed here and died shortly afterward.

    Treating people with kindness and accepting people as they are was important to him as he was Gay and not accepted at that time. This prose brings out the depth of my love for my brother who cared about mankind. Thank you for your beautiful words.

    • Gwynn, thank you for sending such encouraging words and even more for the story about your brother. He left a huge teaching about kindness to you and to all who knew him. Have you written about it? I visited your blog and will do some exploring there. It’s heartbreaking that he died after making it to “safety.” I hope you were able to be with him at the end of his life.

      Kindness is the essential teaching for me and my family. My husband became a practitioner of kindness after being diagnosed with incurable cancer. He was too messed up to focus, teach, or even meditate the way he had in the past, but he decided he could be could always be kind. It made the impossible bearable, because he attracted so much love. So, at the moment, I focus on keeping kindness as the motivator of political action. Wishing you well in all ways.

      • Yes, I wrote about my brother. Look in my family section for an older story, ACCEPTANCE. He lived more life in almost 42 years than I have lived in my 67. He worked with kids and adults. He was VERY knowledgeable about the world’s religions… the problem… he was NOT accepted for who he was by any of the religions. Kindness needs to come from one’s soul, as especially after my brother died, I learned how hypocritical people in church can be.

        I applaud you and your husband. Kindness is essential in this world. Your poem did touch my heart.

        • Thank you, Gwynn. I’ll find the piece you suggest and look forward to reading it. Kindness seems so basic to me. As most of us know, but I repeat, the Dalai Lama often says, “Kindness is my religion.”

  10. This is beautiful and poignant on so many levels, Elaine.

  11. Beautiful! I love the poem and the joyful magnificence. And it brought back memories of marches I’d been on, of forgotten ideals, and of the me I left behind decades ago as my world closed in around making a living and raising a family. But oh, the memory of being in the middle of a huge crowd of like-minded strangers, and feeling like I was walking with the world, brings a warmth over me. Thank you for this.

    • I wrote a poem, Robin! That was a surprise. It was first prose, but the repeating phrases stood out, so I experimented and turned it into a poem. The Women’s Marches everywhere seemed to be love-ins with a strong sense of affirmation for everyone there–all ages, all sexes, all orientations. I brought home enough sustenance for the long haul.

  12. This is just so beautiful, Elaine. I treasure it. Thank you for your genuine heart of sadness…for your glimpses of hope.

    Love,
    Ava

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