Monday, 5 September 2016

Grief revealed

If we have lived long enough to live and to lose someone we have loved we are on intimate terms with grief. We say this and it is true, but "intimate terms" sounds almost too friendly as a way to describe it. It is too familiar for so many people and yet, even under old scars, the grief finds ways to be fresh. It keeps its strangeness, its power of shock, like a tidal wave coming in amongst the slapping waves which only hint at power and content themselves with the rubbing of stones in a hypnotic repetition of watery breaths. We know grief is always possible. We acknowledge its potential while putting it to one side in our thoughts, unless we have had too many shocks or have been born, like a shell-less  crab skittering in vulnerability, in which case the potential of grief is as palpable as an ever present shadow of looming rock.

Grief and the ocean seem to be immense, powerful,and relentless. They differ in that grief sends its intimate waves of loss and longing on our personal shores in unexpected chills to dull a sunny day more often. The ocean is a great smiter of life, but it can rock in its lullaby of hiss and seaweed a long time before it is stirred to turn its wave fingers into fists. Grief is a regular contributor to our loom of emotions. Sometimes you see it coming and sometimes it swamps you and sends you sputtering : an earthquake of cold fire coursing, almost drowning the soul. 
There is much imagery of grief and the ocean. In 5th grade we studied a poem by Shakespeare extracted from The Tempest. I have never forgotten the haunted way the poem made me feel. 
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them,ding-dong, bell.

In the same play Prospero eschewing his magic, in a gesture symbolizing Shakespeare's closing of his talent,says he will drown his book after burying his staff  "certain fathoms in the earth,. And deeper than did ever plummet sound." This is the quieter grief of aging and losing power and  remembering more than is yet to come.Even Macbeth waist deep in blood waxes poetical about the ocean saying, "Will all the water in the ocean wash this blood from my hands? No, instead my hands will stain the seas scarlet, turning the green waters red." There is a grieving for lost innocence simultaneous with his awareness that there is no undoing what he has done. Even the ocean in its immensity is unable to quench his guilt. Only those who are strong in the flush of youth, as Romeo and Juliet in whom blood runs quickly like rivers of red, are able to say “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, /My love as deep; the more I give to thee,/The more I have, for both are infinite.” For those who are not yet marked by grief's intimacy,  the infinite nature of the ocean's power is a kindred spirit in passion. Only those who are unbowed by the buffets of persevering grief like and confident in their power can say like Julius Caesar "There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures." Ironically, the grief of  betrayal, then death,  at the hands of a friend is soon to encompass him

Grief is strict, but it is an able teacher, a skilled pursuer. If we like Odysseus sometimes stop our ears to its sad dirge and haunting longing,  we can learn much from it. We can learn about love, about courage, about strength, about patience, about hope, about the power of despair and about resilience. We can learn about gratitude and kindness and choosing wisely how we spend spend time and how we treat others and ourselves. 

This past weekend I attended a beautiful celebration of love at a wedding of a young woman who grew up with my daughters. When they were all small her grandfather said they were like garden fairies by the pond and tall grasses and trees. Now he has rejoined the universe and his ancestors and we come again to loss and grief like dappled shade amongst the fairy beams of light. 

As I was walking back to the hotel having gone to buy diapers for my little grandson, I passed a funeral home where the hearses and somber cars were preparing for a final journey for someone. In just 15 steps I came to a road under repair with its cones like summer wasps warning of striations in pavement and of being stung by the front loader's  shovel mandible. I thought of new life, new marriage, busyness, change and the requiem of funerals and thought about how the whole of life's experiences can pass in a mundane minute like a drop of water reflecting the greater world. 

For every happiness, there is a grief in store. For every grief there are infinite layers of feeling packed like Matryoshka dolls. For each grief there is also hope and memory and love. While we live, we breathe the air of warmth and frost. We breathe. We live and, if we live, we are granted love or we else we are shells of air only. For the gifts of love, of shared experience and hope I am thankful, for I know loss, pain and despair cannot eclipse them.

 Simon and Garfunkel sang "Hello darkness my old friend" and The Proclaimers sang " I can't believe I ever doubted you: my old friend the blues." J.R.R. Tolkien wrote : I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.” There is a loving in grief and a grieving in love just as there is a night for day and a spring in the winter and a winter in the spring. I look for the light in the darkness even if the illumination is feeble. It is always there in its subtle, gentle hope. 

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