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“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known …suffering…. and have found their way out of the depths.  (They) have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.”   ~ Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Today I am sharing a poem from a wonderful book I have recently come across that has brought me hope and comfort. It is by Jan Richardson titled, “The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief.”

Though the author wrote this book of blessings during her husband’s illness and subsequent passing, grief can come to us in many forms. Grief over lost dreams, over parts of ourselves that are not loved, the loss of so much of the natural world, the loss of our or a loved one’s physical abilities. Aging. Loss of memory. Loss of a pet.

But if we can stay with our grief until we come through to the other side, what blessings may await?

Construction Site

When we begin to emerge back into the world after grief has struck, we become aware that we cannot emerge alone. A lifeline comes to us from a friend, family member, mother nature, poetry, community.

The time will come when we will tether ourselves to this lifeline and throw the other end out to someone else. So perhaps it is more than a lifeline. It is a web. One we share with all life and offer back to another someday. Weaving together ourselves with all that we love.

This is my reading of the poem, “Construction Site” from a poet found on Twitter @the_librarian1.

Construction Site by CL @the_librarian1 on Twitter

Please have a listen to the poet’s reading. It is absolutely beautiful.

Stardust

Stardust comes to Earth

in our bones and blood

breath and being.

In loss and love and

mercy and cruelty scarring so deep,

they carve a new trajectory in humanity’s path

with each life,

as silk

rubbing over stone.

In time

we

will

go

back

home.

Earth’s Desire

If your heart is heavy, if you feel exhausted from it all, plant your fingers in the soil of our Mother Earth, breathe in her breath that gently touches your skin as it passes, and walk barefoot on her body.

Let our Mother heal you. And let us care for her in return. This exchange of nurturing is what she needs now, as do we.

I share this poem written by a late, great elder of our time, Thomas Berry.

Video of Earth’s Desire by Thomas Berry

Earth’s Desire

By Thomas Berry

To be seen
in her loveliness

to be tasted
in her delicious
fruits

to be listened to
in her teaching

to be endured
in the severity
of her discipline

to be experienced
as the maternal
source
whence we come

the destiny
to which we
return.

Blessing for Coming Home to an Empty House

I realized that I had not posted much lately. I am in the homerun stretch of graduating from the apprenticeship program at The Guild for Spiritual Guidance, which has carried me through the last two years in community and love. After this Sunday, I will be a graduate and will dive deep into my writing and sharing with you here in this space. I very much look forward to posting more.

In the meantime, I came across this poem by Jan Richardson. I hope it brings you comfort.

Blessing for Coming Home to an Empty House

I know
how every time you return,
you call out
in greeting
to the one
who is not there;
how you lift your voice
not in habit
but in honor
of the absence
so fierce
it has become
its own force.

I know
how the hollow
of the house
echoes in your chest,
how the emptiness
you enter
matches the ache
you carry with you
always.

I know
there are days
when the only thing
more brave than leaving
this house
is coming back to it.

So on those days,
may there be a door
in the emptiness
through which a welcome
waits for you.

On those days,
may you be surprised
by the grace
that gathers itself
within this space.

On those days,
may the delight
that made a home here
find its way to you again,
not merely in memory
but in hope,

so that every word
ever spoken in kindness
circles back to meet you;

so that you may hear
what still sings to you
within these walls;

so that you may know
the love
that dreams with you here
when finally
you give yourself
to rest—

the love
that rises with you,
stubborn like the dawn
that never fails
to come.

—Jan Richardson

The Thing Is

When the darkness of despair

finally gives way

to that small sliver of light,

I pull my eyes upward

toward the source of the light

And inward

to my heart,

knowing the two are connected.

I grab the edge of the light

and I hold tight

And let it bring me back to this indelible world.


Click for the Video of The Thing Is by Ellen Bass

Video of the poem The Thing Is

The Thing Is

BY ELLEN BASS

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you’ve held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

your throat filled with the silt of it.

When grief sits with you, its tropical heat

thickening the air, heavy as water

more fit for gills than lungs;

when grief weights you down like your own flesh

only more of it, an obesity of grief,

you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.

Haiku Poetry of Grief and Gratitude

I have rediscovered Haiku poetry, a Japanese form of short poetry.  In the English language, Haiku is written according to the number of syllables: Three lines with 17 syllables.  5-7-5.  Japanese does not have syllables.  So, Haiku is written in what are durational sound units, sounds of equal duration.  In English, syllables can be of differing duration.  

I think I love Haiku so much for a couple of reasons.  First, because of my analytical side.  The counting of syllables and the effort it takes to fit a moment of life into 17 syllables is very satisfying to this woman whose favorite class in school (way back when) was math.  Many poets of Haiku in English think of this 17-syllable rule as a suggestion, and my older self is just fine with coloring outside the lines.

Second, Haiku helps me to reel in my errant thoughts and focus them like a light beam onto one moment, one object, a simple thing.  This is a type of meditation for me.  It has helped me, especially during these uncertain times. 

Noticing the smallest of things and being grateful for them, however fleeting, is what I attempt to hold in my hands as I walk through life now.

Here are a few Haiku poems focusing on grief and gratitude. I hope you find comfort in them.


Grief

A Japanese Poem Translated by Takashi Kodaira and Alfred H. Marks

At the deepest point

of grief, somebody nearby

breaks a withered branch


by Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

In a world

Of grief and pain,

Flowers bloom –

      Even then.


By Rev. Deb Vaughn

Just a single leaf…

One of many in autumn

A tree remembers


By Emily Thiroux Threatt

Remembering joy

Gazing into his brown eyes

We laughed together


by Hannah Spencer

“Not Fair”

How cruel my heart

is!… To persist in beating

although you’re gone…


by Dina Televitskaya

“Smile”

It has flown to me.

And it has given me grief.

It was your sad smile.


by P.S. AWTRY

“Not As Strong As She Seems”

formidable dam

     a breach in the night

          dread torrent of tears


by Paula Goldsmith

“Squirrel Time”

My cute furry friend

Eating nuts until the end

Chasing all your friends


Unknown

Morning fog rolls in

Not as dark as yesterday

         Or the day before


Gratitude

By Diane Yoza

My white coffee cup

So full of aroma

Sips to warm my heart


by David Byrne

“Beauty”

Ah, beauty must die

Impermanent flower

Showing gratitude


by Romeo Naces

“Grateful Sigh”

    …soil, sky and sea sigh

       gratitude from low and high

       we, us, you and I…


by Line Gauthier

“Summer Whispers”

summer whispers

in the garden of my life

  ~ chants of gratitude


by Dietra Reid

Appreciation of Colors”

shades enlightened light

gratitude to primary

secondary thanks


by Suzy @ suzysomedaysomewhere.blogspot.com

Changing seasons drift

A twisting kaleidoscope;

   Life, a Thankful gift

The Witchery of Living

A poem by Mary Oliver. This is an excerpt from that poem. I plan on uploading a video of the whole poem in the near future, but I find this section particularly meaningful at this time in my life.

Click the picture for the video or read below.

To Begin With, The Sweet Grass

Mary Oliver

The witchery of living
is my whole conversation
with you, my darlings.
All I can tell you is what I know.

Look, and look again.
This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

It’s more than bones.
It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.
It’s more than the beating of the single heart.
It’s praising.
It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving.
You have a life—just imagine that!
You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe
   still another.

Love After Love

The weight of heartbreak and loss can envelop us in what feels like darkness so deep and wide, it is unimaginable to think of receiving love from another again. However, the most neglected and estranged person we encounter in our lives is oftentimes ourselves.

It is possible to love ourselves again, or for the first time. This poem by Derek Walcott tells us to discard the letters and preconceived images we have of ourselves that were borne out of disappointment and to love those parts of ourselves we have neglected. Fall in love with that stranger.

Love After Love

by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Prescription for the Disillusioned

Too often, we only have indifference, neglect, or even contempt for ourselves. Yet it is self-compassion that opens our hard shells to new beginnings and out of the illusion of futility. It is imperative in these times that we show ourselves the compassion we wish others would show to the suffering. Who among us is not suffering at times and who among us is not worthy of compassion?

Click the picture for the video or read below.

Prescription for the Disillusioned

by Rebecca del Rio

Come new to this day.
Remove the rigid overcoat of experience,
the notion of knowing,
the beliefs that cloud your vision.

Leave behind the stories of your life.
Spit out the sour taste of unmet expectation.
Let the stale scent of what-ifs waft back into the swamp
of your useless fears.

Arrive curious, without the armor of certainty,
the plans and planned results of the life you’ve imagined.
Live the life that chooses you,
new every breath, every blink of your astonished eyes.

– Rebecca del Rio

How The Stars Get in Your Bones

A poem by Jan Richardson tells of the luminosity that can come from integrating one’s grief and letting it set fire to the fractured parts within. As caregivers to loved ones, nature, the world, we are burdened with an enormous responsibility that may feel like a suffocating weight. However, this weight can be used as alchemy to form diamonds.

Click the picture for the video or read the poem below

How the Stars Get in Your Bones

by Jan Richardson

Sapphire, diamond, emerald, quartz:
think of every hard thing
that carries its own brilliance,
shining with the luster that comes
only from uncountable ages
in the earth, in the dark,
buried beneath unimaginable weight,
bearing what seemed impossible,
bearing it still.

And you, shouldering the grief
you had thought so solid, so impermeable,
the terrible anguish
you carried as a burden
now become—
who can say what day it happened?—
a beginning.

See how the sorrow in you
slowly makes its own light,
how it conjures its own fire.

See how radiant
even your despair has become
in the grace of that sun.

Did you think this would happen
by holding the weight of the world,
by giving in to the press of sadness
and time?

I tell you, this blazing in you—
it does not come by choosing
the most difficult way, the most daunting;
it does not come by the sheer force
of your will.
It comes from the helpless place in you
that, despite all, cannot help but hope,
the part of you that does not know
how not to keep turning
toward this world,
to keep turning your face
toward this sky,
to keep turning your heart
toward this unendurable earth,
knowing your heart will break
but turning it still.

I tell you,
this is how the stars
get in your bones.

This is how the brightness
makes a home in you,
as you open to the hope that burnishes
every fractured thing it finds
and sets it shimmering,
a generous light that will not cease,
no matter how deep the darkness grows,
no matter how long the night becomes.

Still, still, still
the secret of secrets
keeps turning in you,
becoming beautiful,
becoming blessed,
kindling the luminous way
by which you will emerge,
carrying your shattered heart
like a constellation within you,
singing to the day
that will not fail to come.

What The Living Do

Today I share with you this poem by Marie Howe, “What The Living Do.”

During those mundane days when I feel trapped in an ordinary life and perhaps feeling the losses more strongly, I find myself repeating the title of this poem. This is what the living do.

Life is a container for both our gratitude and grief. And it is grief that is felt most strongly in the repetition of tasks and the silence of the night. It is the way back to gratitude. And it is what the living do.

Click the picture for the video or read the poem below.

What the Living Do

Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

One or Two Things

A short contemplation of nature and now for this Sunday morning. This is where I find divinity and strength, though hard at times it may be. I sit or take a walk outside if even for a few moments, and notice the smallest of creatures in flight or running across the path. And I remember, everything is divine, everything will pass out of this world. This world is so beautiful if I can just stop and breathe into it.

One or Two Things

Mary Oliver

1
Don’t bother me. I’ve just been born.

2
The butterfly’s loping flight
carries it through the country of the leaves
delicately, and well enough to get it
where it wants to go, wherever that is, stopping
here and there to fuzzle the damp throats
of flowers and the black mud; up
and down it swings, frenzied and aimless; and sometimes

for long delicious moments it is perfectly
lazy, riding motionless in the breeze on the soft stalk
of some ordinary flower.


3
The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things, I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice,
crow voice,
frog voice; now,
he said, and now,

and never once mentioned forever,


4
which has nevertheless always been,
like a sharp iron hoof,
at the center of my mind.

5
One or two things are all you need
to travel over the blue pond, over the deep
roughage of the trees and through the stiff
flowers of lightning—some deep
memory of pleasure, some cutting
knowledge of pain.


6
But to lift the hoof!
For that you need
an idea.

7
For years and years I struggled
just to love my life. And then
the butterfly
rose, weightless, in the wind.
“Don’t love your life
too much,” it said,

and vanished
into the world.

Pushing Through

Over the past two years, I have experienced more loss than my entire life before this time.  I know I am not the only one.  It has been a dark night for our world, a darkness we must walk through in order to exit, hopefully, wiser and more compassionate.  There is a quote I like that helps me remember that the darkness must be embraced and listened to for the alchemy to transform ourselves and our world.  “The only way out is through.  The only way through is in.” 

However, this is only half of the alchemy.  We have been taught in our culture that, after a short time, the only acceptable way to grieve is behind closed doors, alone.  And it does not address the daily grief that those in caregiving roles shoulder almost daily.  We have been taught to “get over it,” “move on,” “do not burden others.”

What we have forgotten in our culture is the other half of the grieving process, the way in which the transformation can happen for us as individuals and as a society.  We in the “modern world” have lost the communal experience, the vessel in which we come together as a community and hear and hold each other through our grief.   

This poem by Rainer Maria Rilke may speak to that reaching out.  Whom is he asking for help?  A divine presence?  A loved one?  His ancestors?  His community? 

I hope this poem gives you some solace and perhaps an answer for your own situation. 

https://www.wevideo.com/view/2459050750

Pushing Through
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

 I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.

You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.[1] 

The Patterns of Your Life

Let us say, your story goes like this….

This is another poem that I contemplate almost daily, The Art of Fugue VI by Jan Zwicky. Why is it that the patterns of our lives repeat themselves? What is it that we need to understand, hear, or learn? I listen more intently now to the quiet between the moments of my noisy life. Perhaps someday, I will hear what I need to hear.

Click the picture for the video or read the poem below:

The Art of Fugue, Part VI
Jan Zwicky

Once again, the moment of impossible
transition, the bow, its silent voice
above the string. Let us say
the story goes like this. Let us say
you could start anywhere.
Let us say you took your splintered being
by the hand, and led it
to the centre of a room: starlight
through the floorboards of the soul.
The patterns of your life
repeat themselves until you listen.
Forgive this. Say now
what you have to say.

To Love What Death Can Touch

To Love What Death Can Touch

Recently, I have found much comfort in this 12th-Century poem, especially during this time when everything seems to be changing and out of our control. In order to truly feel the depth of appreciation for those people and beings we love, whether a parent, a pet or a flower, it is necessary to see that their end will come as well. Everything we love, we will lose. It is an unchanging law of this physical world. I try to walk the path of holding these two seeming opposites in my hands. Grief and gratitude. They are twins of the same mother, love.

Here is the 12th-Century poem in written and video form (click the picture above). The author is unknown.

‘Tis a fearful thing

To love

What death can touch.

To love, to hope, to dream

And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

Love,

But a holy thing

To love what death can touch.