Reflections on Veterans Day

SONGS for VETERANS DAY (patriotic & critiques, plus songs from different veteran and veterans’ family experiences):

Excerpt from Second Inaugural Address Abraham Lincoln

… public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation … Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully … With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Justice for Veterans and the Vulnerable: A Veterans Day Reflection (excerpt) — Bruce Epperly

… Instituted in gratitude for victory in World War I, Woodrow Wilson made the following affirmation regarding Armistice Day, the precursor to Veterans Day: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

While such words can be seen as platitudes, they remind us that “peace” and “justice” should be the goal of all national policies. They also remind us, in a time of growing individualism and me-first politics and economics, that national health depends on sacrifice — not just in times of war, but in our civic responsibility, human rights, and tax paying. Ironically, some of the people who most vigorously wave our flag are the most self-interested when it comes to our nation’s responsibility to support its most vulnerable citizens.

Veterans Day is about gratitude and stewardship. On Veterans Day, we proclaim our gratitude to those whose service in the military has secured our freedoms through the years. Whether or not we approve of our nation’s foreign policy, we need to support the everyday people — mostly working class, often minority — who fight our nation’s wars. We need to say “thank you.” But our thanksgiving should lead to action, both in support of the well-being of veterans, especially those who have been injured or traumatized by war, and in our own commitment to the common good and our nation’s care for its most vulnerable citizens, those for whom our soldiers sacrifice.

It is easy, as the prophets and Jesus both noted, to speak of sacrifice, without making the commitment to sacrifice for the well-being of our neighbors. When Veterans Day is understood in the spirit of the biblical tradition, it reminds us that there is no such thing as rugged individualism or absolute property rights; everything is a gift from God to be used for the well-being of others as well as our own kin. Sacrifice is not just the responsibility of veterans; it is required of all who would follow the way of Jesus. In the spirit of Wilson’s proclamation, justice and peace should guide our national and personal decision-making. Accordingly, remembrance of the sacrifices made by veterans challenges us to ask: Do our actions promote the overall well-being of our nation’s peoples and this good earth? Do we focus on our own welfare to the exclusion of our neighbor? What are we willing to sacrifice so that others may live abundantly? God’s vision of abundant life is always about “us” as well as “mine.”

So, on Veterans Day, let us be grateful and let our gratitude inspire us to generosity and commitment to the well-being of our nation, most especially its most vulnerable citizens and veterans who suffer the ravages of war. Then, our love of nation will take us beyond nationalism or self-interest to the affirmation of our role as God’s partners in healing the earth. ###

The Veteran Dorothy Parker

When I was young and bold and strong,
Oh, right was right, and wrong was wrong!
My plume on high, my flag unfurled,
I rode away to right the world.
“Come out, you dogs, and fight!” said I,
And wept there was but once to die.

But I am old; and good and bad
Are woven in a crazy plaid.
I sit and stay, “The world is so;
And he is wise who lets it go.
A battle lost, a battle won—
The difference is small, my son.”

Inertia rides and riddles me;
The which is called Philosophy.
 


To a Soldier in Hospital Winifred M. Letts

Courage came to you with your boyhood’s grace
     Of ardent life and limb.
Each day new dangers steeled you to the test,
     To ride, to climb, to swim.
Your hot blood taught you carelessness of death
          With every breath.

So when you went to play another game
     You could not but be brave:
An Empire’s team, a rougher football field,
     The end—perhaps your grave.
What matter? On the winning of a goal
          You staked your soul.

Yes, you wore courage as you wore your youth
     With carelessness and joy.
But in what Spartan school of discipline
     Did you get patience, boy?
How did you learn to bear this long-drawn pain
          And not complain?

Restless with throbbing hopes, with thwarted aims,
     Impulsive as a colt,
How do you lie here month by weary month
     Helpless, and not revolt?
What joy can these monotonous days afford
          Here in a ward?

Yet you are merry as the birds in spring,
     Or feign the gaiety,
Lest those who dress and tend your wound each day
     Should guess the agony.
Lest they should suffer—this the only fear
          You let draw near.

Greybeard philosophy has sought in books
     And argument this truth,
That man is greater than his pain, but you
     Have learnt it in your youth.
You know the wisdom taught by Calvary
          At twenty-three.

Death would have found you brave, but braver still
     You face each lagging day,
A merry Stoic, patient, chivalrous,
     Divinely kind and gay.
You bear your knowledge lightly, graduate
          Of unkind Fate.

Careless philosopher, the first to laugh,
     The latest to complain.
Unmindful that you teach, you taught me this
     In your long fight with pain:
Since God made man so good—here stands my creed—
          God’s good indeed. 


What Governments Say to Women (excerpt) — Alice Duer Miller

I. In Time of War

Help us. Your country needs you;
   Show that you love her,
Give her your men to fight,
   Ay, even to fall;
The fair, free land of your birth,
   Set nothing above her,
Not husband nor son,
   She must come first of all…


Not to Keep — Robert Frost

They sent him back to her. The letter came
Saying… and she could have him. And before
She could be sure there was no hidden ill
Under the formal writing, he was in her sight—
Living.— They gave him back to her alive—
How else? They are not known to send the dead—
And not disfigured visibly. His face?—
His hands? She had to look—to ask,
“What was it, dear?” And she had given all
And still she had all—they had—they the lucky!
Wasn’t she glad now? Everything seemed won,
And all the rest for them permissible ease.
She had to ask, “What was it, dear?”
                                                               “Enough,
Yet not enough. A bullet through and through,
High in the breast. Nothing but what good care
And medicine and rest—and you a week,
Can cure me of to go again.” The same
Grim giving to do over for them both.
She dared no more than ask him with her eyes
How was it with him for a second trial.
And with his eyes he asked her not to ask.
They had given him back to her, but not to keep. 


Thanks Yusef Komunyakaa

Thanks for the tree
between me & a sniper’s bullet.
I don’t know what made the grass
sway seconds before the Viet Cong
raised his soundless rifle.
Some voice always followed,
telling me which foot
to put down first.
Thanks for deflecting the ricochet
against that anarchy of dusk.
I was back in San Francisco
wrapped up in a woman’s wild colors,
causing some dark bird’s love call
to be shattered by daylight
when my hands reached up
& pulled a branch away
from my face. Thanks
for the vague white flower
that pointed to the gleaming metal
reflecting how it is to be broken
like mist over the grass,
as we played some deadly
game for blind gods.
What made me spot the monarch
writhing on a single thread
tied to a farmer’s gate,
holding the day together
like an unfingered guitar string,
is beyond me. Maybe the hills
grew weary & leaned a little in the heat.
Again, thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I’m still
falling through its silence.
I don’t know why the intrepid
sun touched the bayonet,
but I know that something
stood among those lost trees
& moved only when I moved.


Battleground (excerpt) —  William Trowbridge

It showed the War was as my father said:
boredom flanked by terror, a matter of keeping
low and not freezing. “You wore your helmet

square,” he said, not “at some stupid angle,
like that draft-dodger Wayne,” who died
so photogenically in The Sands of Iwa Jima ….

A Valentine’s Note from JCC: Songs and poems about different kinds of love: for people, for the world, for each other (hopeful, sad, reflective, rowdy)

SONGS about LOVE:

Blessing for the Brokenhearted  — Jan Richardson
There is no remedy for love but to love more. – Henry David Thoreau

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound,
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it,

as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still,

as if it trusts
that its own
persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us
nonetheless.From The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief
© Jan Richardson (Wanton Gospeller Press, 2016). janrichardson.com


Beatitudes for Those Who Love
This prayer-poem is by Rev. Maren Tirabassi.

For Valentine’s Eve, Luke’s Beatitudes

Blessed are you who are poor
with no pink greeting cards or chocolate,
because you love someone with dementia –
for God remembers enough for both of you.

Blessed are you who are hungry for a love
forbidden by family or culture,
by law or religion,
by damage sustained in heart or spirit,
or by anyone who tears your family apart at a border–
because God promises you the taste of kisses.

Blessed are you who are shunned or bullied
in person and online for your body or your abilities,
for you will have a day  
when you will see yourself in a mirror
and laugh with joy at how God made you beautiful.

Blessed are you when someone
assumes the fact that you didn’t marry
means you don’t know about love,
or when they call a child you cherish –
“just a foster kid,”
or bar the way of the therapy dog
who holds your heart together,
because your wounds do not fit
their definitions,
or turn you away in tears
from an ex-spouse’s visiting hours.

Re-joy in that day, for you understand
far more than most ever will.

But woe to you who hoard a loving family,
rather than sharing it with the lonely,
for you are consoled now.

Woe to you who expect life
to be all honeymoon,
for you won’t be resilient to disappointment.

Woe to you who laugh at anyone
who is unloved,
or whose love is dismissed –
for you will never be able to take it back
when the tears in your life teach you wisdom.

Woe to you when all congratulate
your penmanship or tech savvy in life,
but you forget the teacher
who once told you to make
a Valentine, not just for those like you,
but for everyone in class,

no, not the teacher in second grade –
the one two thousand years ago.

+++

Rev. Maren C. Tirabassi

POEM  — Maya Angelou

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

The Dance— Wendell Berry

I would have each couple turn,
join and unjoin, be lost
in the greater turning
of other couples, woven
in the circle of a dance,
the song of long time flowing

over them, so they may return,
turn again in to themselves
out of desire greater than their own,
belonging to all, to each,
to the dance, and to the song
that moves them through the night.

What is fidelity? To what
does it hold? The point
of departure, or the turning road
that is departure and absence
and the way home? What we are
and what we were once

are far estranged. For those
who would not change, time
is infidelity. But we are married
until death, and are betrothed
to change. By silence, so,
I learn my song. I earn

my sunny fields by absence, once
and to come. And I love you
as I love the dance that brings you
out of the multitude
in which you come and go.
Love changes, and in change is true.

Reflections on water, wellsprings, and milestones such as upcoming graduation

In a season of drought, let’s focus on water stewarsdhip and appreciation. Let’s also consider its spiritual resonances, and take time to savor upcoming milestones such as graduations.

Songs about water:

Water — Wendell Berry
I was born in a drought year.
That summer my mother waited in the house,
enclosed in the sun and the dry ceaseless wind,
for the men to come back in the evenings,
bringing water from a distant spring.
Weins of leaves ran dry, roots shrank.
And all my life I have dreaded
the return of that year,
sure that it still is somewhere,
like a dead enemy’s soul. 
Fear of dust in my mouth is always with me,
and I am the faithful husband of the rain,
I love the water of wells and springs
and the taste of roofs in the water of cisterns.
I am a dry man whose thirst is praise of clouds,
and whose mind is something of a cup.
My sweetness is to wake in the night
after days of dry heat, hearing the rain.


Blessing of the Well
— Jan Richardson
If you stand at the edge of this blessing
and call down into it,
you will hear your words return to you.
If you lean in and listen close,
you will hear this blessing
give the story of your life back to you.
Quiet your voice, quiet your judgment, quiet the way
you always tell your story to yourself.
Quiet all these and you will hear
the whole of it and the hollows of it:
the spaces in the telling,
the gaps where you hesitate to go.
Sit at the rim of this blessing.
Press your ear to its lip, its sides, its curves
that were carved out long ago
by those whose thirst drove them deep,
those who dug into the layers
with only their hands and hope.
Rest yourself beside this blessing
and you will begin to hear
the sound of water entering the gaps.
Still yourself and you will feel it
rising up within you, filling every hollow,
springing forth anew.

Life’s Milestones & Passages: Quotes

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. —Sun Tzu

That clock you hear is the sound of your own heart. Sink your teeth into this life, and don’t get let go. —Lin-Manuel Miranda

Remember this: You are awesome. I’m not suggesting you be boastful. No one likes that in men or women. But I am suggesting that believing in yourself is the first necessary step to coming even close to achieving your potential. —Sheryl Sandberg

It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up. —Babe Ruth

If I must give any of you advice it would be say yes. Say yes, and create your own destiny. — Maya Rudolph

The best remedy for those who are frightened, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be alone with the sky, nature, and God. For only then can you feel that everything is as it should be and that God wants people to be happy amid nature’s beauty and simplicity. —Anne Frank

I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. —Michael Jordan

You can’t do it alone. Be open to collaboration. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you. Spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life. — Amy Poehler

Now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. —Neil Gaiman

Change takes courage. —Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Woman at the Well: Buddhist and Christian Stories (excerpts from reflection by Jyoti Sahi, Indian-Christian artist)

… I find myself often returning to … the story of Jesus conversing with a Samaritan woman at the well. I feel that this dialogue between a Jewish Rabbi and a woman who was considered by orthodox Jews as an outcaste, is similar to the dialogue between Ananda, one of the main disciples of the Buddha, and a Dalit woman who he asked to give him some water to drink. Finally the issue was concerning the line between purity and pollution, between water which should be for all, and which is essential for life on this planet earth, and the ritual distinctions which are made between individuals and communities. … The story is in that sense not only about the relation of Jesus or Ananda, with a particular woman, but about the basis for dialogue itself. I have felt that the story could be the beginning of a dialogue between the Christian tradition, and the essence of Indian spirituality. It is about a meeting which takes place beyond boundaries. … The same theme is also represented by a Buddhist monk artist in Sri Lanka who is … actually depicting not the Buddhist story, but his understanding, as a Buddhist, of the story of Jesus with the woman at the well. What struck me about this picture was that the woman is not alone, and it is not just a dialogue between the Guru and the disciple, but the woman is part of a whole community. In the Biblical story, the woman who comes to the well is alone with him, and it is only later that the disciples find Jesus talking to a woman, and that too a Samaritan, and feel shocked. And then it is later that this woman goes and tells her other Samaritan villagers about Jesus, and wonders if he is in fact a Prophet. In my own paintings on this theme, I suggested that the Woman was not only the human person, but was the water itself. Jesus in this dialogue is addressing, like Francis who talked to the birds, the whole of Creation.

Rain (c) 2016 — Gail Doktor
 
Around me the earth
My little garden plot
My sweet spot of earth
The piece I own for now
Where seeds and hopes
Are sown
 
Oh, and everywhere else
The fields where our children play
The rivers in which we fish
The lakes in which we paddle and boat
The fresh wells on which we draw
Have been thirsty
And slow to refill
 
Parched
Deep and empty
Dry and dehydrated
Tapped out
Below any level of refreshing
 
And so
Unable to give back
When we turn the tap
Drop the bucket
Open the flow
 
Oh, we ask
For lots
Or a little more
Or just the essential quotient
That assures survival
Of green seedlings
And desperate beings
Seeking life
 
We hear a guarded maybe
A firm no
A resigned shrug
There isn’t anything to offer
When you ask
 
Until today
When water falls
Like an answer
Late in coming
Just enough to assure us
Some One is listening
Or there’s yet balance in creation
Sufficient to let loose
What we need
What our environment craves
What our homes require
What life itself must have
Or nothing else matters
 
As essential as breath: Water

In Praise of Water
— John O’Donohue
Let us bless the grace of water:
The imagination of the primeval ocean
Where the first forms of life stirred
And emerged to dress the vacant earth
With warm quilts of color.
The well whose liquid root worked
Through the long night of clay,
Trusting ahead of itself openings
That would yet yield to its yearning
Until at last it arises in the desire of light
To discover the pure quiver of itself
Flowing crystal clear and free
Through delighted emptiness.
The courage of a river to continue belief
In the slow fall of ground,
Always falling farther
Toward the unseen ocean.
The river does what words would love,
Keeping its appearance
By insisting on disappearance;
Its only life surrendered
To the event of pilgrimage,
Carrying the origin to the end,
Seldom pushing or straining,
Keeping itself to itself
Everywhere all along its flow,
All at one with its sinuous mind,
An utter rhythm, never awkward,
It continues to swirl
Through all unlikeness, With elegance:
A ceaseless traverse of presence
Soothing on each side
The stilled fields, Sounding out its journey,
Raising up a buried music
Where the silence of time
Becomes almost audible.
Tides stirred by the eros of the moon
Draw from that permanent restlessness
Perfect waves that languidly rise
And pleat in gradual forms of aquamarine
To offer every last tear of delight
At the altar of stillness inland.
And the rain in the night, driven
By the loneliness of the wind
To perforate the darkness,
As though some air pocket might open
To release the perfume of the lost day
And salvage some memory
From its forsaken turbulence
And drop its weight of longing
Into the earth, and anchor.
Let us bless the humility of water,
Always willing to take the shape
Of whatever otherness holds it,
The buoyancy of water
Stronger than the deadening,
Downward drag of gravity,
The innocence of water,
Flowing forth, without thought
Of what awaits it,
The refreshment of water,
Dissolving the crystals of thirst.
Water: voice of grief,
Cry of love, In the flowing tear.
Water: vehicle and idiom
Of all the inner voyaging
That keeps us alive.
Blessed be water,
Our first mother.
Like The Water — Wendell Berry
Like the water of a deep stream,
love is always too much.
We did not make it.
Though we drink till we burst,
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.

In the evening we come down to the shore to drink our fill,
and sleep, while it flows
through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning to its rich waters
thirsty.

We enter, willing to die,
into the commonwealth of its joy.

PASSAGES REVISITED: Graduation Thoughts

Commencement Address (1982) excerpts to women of Wellesley College — Maya Angelou

… Since you have worked this hard, since you have also been greatly blessed, since you are here, you have developed a marvelous level of courage, and the question then which you must ask yourself , I think, is will you really do the job which is to be done: Make this country more than it is today, more than what James Baldwin called “these yet to be United States”…

…It takes a phenomenal amount of courage.  For around this world, your world, my world, there are conflicts, brutalities, humiliations, terrors, murders, around this world.  You can almost take any Rand McNally map and close your eyes and just point, and you will find there are injustices, but in your country, particularly in your country, young women, you have, as the old folks say, your work cut out for you.  For fascism is on the rise, and be assured of it, sexism, racism, ageism, every vulgarity against the human spirit is on the rise.  And this is what you have inherited.

It is upon you to increase your virtue, the virtue of courage—it is upon you.  You will be challenged mightily, and you will fall many times.

It is upon you to increase your virtue, the virtue of courage—it is upon you.  You will be challenged mightily, and you will fall many times.  But it is important to remember that it may be necessary to encounter defeat, I don’t know.  But I do know that a diamond, one of the most precious elements in this planet, certainly one in many ways the hardest, is the result of extreme pressure, and time.  Under less pressure, it’s crystal.  Less pressure than that, its coal, less than that, its fossilized leaves are just plain dirt.

You must encounter, confront life.  Life loves the liver of it, ladies.  It is for you to increase your virtues.  There is that in the human spirit which will not be gunned down even by death.  There is no person here who is over one year old who hasn’t slept with fear, or pain or loss or grief, or terror, and yet we have all arisen, have made whatever absolutions we were able to, or chose to, dressed, and said to other human beings, “Good morning.  How are you? Fine, thanks.”

Therein lies our chance toward nobleness—not nobility—but nobleness, the best of a human being is in that ability to overcome.


If Rudyard Kipling (written to his son)

If you can keep your head when all about you       
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,    
But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,    
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,    
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:  
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;       
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster    
And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken    
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,    
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:  
If you can make one heap of all your winnings    
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings    
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew    
To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you    
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’  
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,       
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,    
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute    
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,       
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Acknowledging the challenges of these times: responding to loss & trauma

Your hearts are troubled,
and it is no sacrilege to let them be so …
— Maren Tirabassi

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow.
Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.
― C.S. Lewis

Your name is upon my tongue
your image is in my sight
your memory is in my heart
where can I send these words that I write ?
— Rumi

Naming Change and Loss: Recently, our community has experienced deep challenges, traumas and losses. These are events that occur beyond the pandemic’s complexities, or are exacerbated because of them. These range from life-limiting diagnoses and deaths to accidents and mental health crises. They may also include other life-altering changes, such as major shifts in relationship status, safety and wellbeing, shelter/housing, vocation/livelihood, and/or economic viability.

Some of these circumstances are reversible. Some are permanent and irrevocable. And heartbreaking.

We have been working on hope and resilience for months now. Coping. Managing. Not just surviving, but thriving at times. Reinventing ourselves. Being creative. Optimistic. Yes, and we’re good at it. We keep rising up and responding.

Today … let us, just for a moment, bear witness to the great sorrows that have also shaken us in the past several weeks, or in the last 24 hours. This message is to acknowledge wherever you may find yourself in this reality, in this time. Below are a few offerings. They presume to make things right or better. They don’t pretend to fix or explain anything. They simply articulate something about where we find ourselves. Just for now, let us be present to the truth and pain of these times, as well as the energetic ‘recovery and reopening and renewal’ strategies we implement.

Let us say here, too, that no words by any person, even those who have also known great suffering, are equal to all the realities that are happening among us. Accept whatever grace or support you may find in these words, put down what isn’t helpful or relevant to your situation. Know these are offered with love, but what we truly mean to offer is our presence in your life.  — Rev Gail Pomeroy Doktor

Songs:
Seasons of Love from the musical RENT
I Will Remember You by Sarah McLachlan
Holes in the Night Sky by the Smith Fraser Duo
Let It Be by The Beatles
Candle in the Wind by Elton John
What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
Stars by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel
Holes in the Floor of Heaven by Steve Wariner
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? performed by Carole King & James Taylor

Blessing for the Brokenhearted (excerpt) — Jan Richardson
Let us agree for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.
Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound,
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.
Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—
as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it,
as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still …

For Grief (excerpt)— John O’Donohue 

When you lose
someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you
gets fragile,
Your thoughts
make your eyes unsure
… words have no confidence.
Your heart has
grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss
has wounded others too,
No one knows what
has been taken from you
When the silence
of absence deepens.

… There are days
when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have
your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle
of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain
faithful to itself.
More than you,
it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form
of your departed;
And, when the work
of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul
where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

Musings on Grief, Loss & Sudden Change

This business of having been issued a body is deeply confusing… Bodies are so messy and disappointing. Every time I see the bumper sticker that says “We think we’re humans having spiritual experiences, but we’re really spirits having human experiences,” I (a) think it’s true and (b) want to ram the car. — Anne Lamott

The Abyss of Grief (full essay here): Suddenly, the sacred fire I have been chasing all my life engulfed me. I was plunged into the abyss … So shattered I could not see my own hand in front of my face … Immolated, I found myself resting in fire. Drowning, I surrendered, and discovered I could breathe under water. … This was the sacred emptiness … And I hated it. I didn’t want vastness of being. I wanted my baby back. But I discovered that there was nowhere to hide when radical sorrow unraveled the fabric of my life. I could rage against the terrible unknown—and I did, for I am human and have this vulnerable body, passionate heart, and complicated mind—or I could turn toward the cup, bow to the Cupbearer, and say, “Yes.” I didn’t do it right away, nor was I able to sustain it when I did manage a breath of surrender. But gradually I learned to soften into the pain and yield to my suffering … I became acutely aware of my connectedness … everywhere … who had lost  … who were, at this very moment, hearing the impossible news … Grief strips us. According to the mystics, this is good news. … Few among us would ever opt for the narrow gate of grief, even if it were guaranteed to lead us to God. But if our most profound losses—the death of a loved one, the ending of a marriage or a career, catastrophic disease or alienation from community—bring us to our knees before that threshold, we might as well enter … — Mirabai Starr for the Center for Action and Contemplation

Resources

  • Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. This is a book available through the library or White Birch Books (place an order); it’s also a community-building resource through their website. Resources for grief due to death, domestic violence/trauma/abuse and other challenges.
  • Resources from the Forgiveness Project: some resources for the process and journey of forgiveness – forgiveness toolkit.
  • Guided Meditation for encountering grief: Joan Halifax

DON’T HESITATE — Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and
Unexpectedly feel joy,
Don’t hesitate.
Give in to it.
There are plenty
Of lives and whole towns
Destroyed or about to be.
We are not wise,
And not very often kind.
And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left.
Perhaps this is its way
Of fighting back, that sometimes
Something happens
Better than all the riches
Or power in the world.
It could be anything,
But very likely
You notice it in the instant
When love begins.
Anyway, that’s often the case.
Anyway, whatever it is,
Don’t be afraid
Of its plenty.
Joy is not made
To be a crumb.

ANTIDOTES to FEAR of DEATH
— Rebecca Elson

Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.

Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.

Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:

No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
Already there
But unconstrained by form.

And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.

Kindness (excerpt)
— Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know
what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted
and carefully saved …
… You must see how
this could be you,
… someone who journeyed
through the night with plans
and the simple breath
that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

The Peace of Wild Things
— Wendell Berry

When despair for the world
Grows in me
And I wake in the night
At the least sound
In fear of what my life
And my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down
Where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water,
And the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives
With forethought of grief.
I come into the presence
Of still water.
And I feel above me
The day-blind stars
Waiting with their light.
For a time
I rest in the grace
Of the world,
And am free.

Excerpt from writings by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Contrary to the general assumption, the first days of grief are not the worst. The immediate reaction is usually shock and numbing disbelief. One has undergone an amputation. After shock comes acute early grief which is a kind of “condensed presence” — almost a form of possession. One still feels the lost limb down to the nerve endings. It is as if the intensity of grief fused the distance between you and the dead. Or perhaps, in reality, part of one dies. Like Orpheus, one tries to follow the dead on the beginning of their journey. But one cannot, like Orpheus, go all the way, and after a long journey one comes back. If one is lucky, one is reborn. Some people die and are reborn many times in their lives. For others the ground is too barren and the time too short for rebirth. Part of the process is the growth of a new relationship with the dead, that “véritable ami mort” Saint-Exupéry speaks of. Like all gestation, it is a slow dark wordless process. While it is taking place one is painfully vulnerable. One must guard and protect the new life growing within– like a child.

One must grieve, and one must go through periods of numbness that are harder to bear than grief. One must refuse the easy escapes offered by habit and human tradition. The first and most common offerings of family and friends are always distractions (“Take her out”–“Get her away” –“Change the scene”–“Bring in people to cheer her up”–“Don’t let her sit and mourn” [when it is mourning one needs]). On the other hand, there is the temptation to self-pity or glorification of grief. “I will instruct my sorrows to be proud,”  Constance cries in a magnificent speech in Shakespeare’s King John.  Despite her words, there is not aristocracy of grief. Grief is a great leveler. There is no highroad out.

Courage is a first step, but simply to bear the blow bravely is not enough. Stoicism is courageous, but it is only a halfway house on the long road. It is a shield, permissible for a short time only. In the end, one has to discard shields and remain open and vulnerable. Otherwise, scar tissue will seal off the wound and no growth will follow. To grow, to be reborn, one must remain vulnerable– open to love but also hideously open to the possibility of more suffering.

More Musings

Most of us do as well as possible, and some of it works okay, and we try to release that which doesn’t and which is never going to. … Making so much of it work is the grace of it; and not being able to make it work is double grace. Grace squared. — Anne Lamott

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect the shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be “healing.” A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to “get through it,” rise to the occasion, exhibit the “strength” that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves the for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself. — Joan Didion, Year of Magical Thinking

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

— Maya Angelou

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