We’re approaching high summer now and national tensions, sadness and grief run like a sub-theme through our commuting. Each day the train continues to take most of us to the jobs we were doing “before,” before the summer, before our present pain, and before the juxtaposition of pain and summer’s beauty were upon us. Last week I reached for a book that, come Fall, will have served as a tonic this season.
“…You could see, still, that she was the woman who had said that. She was a woman who loved her hen flock and her garden and her flowers. Every day, from early spring to late fall, she made a little wander around her house and yard to see what was coming up or getting ready to bloom or blooming. She was always bringing home some plant or seed or root or “sticking it in the ground” to see if it would grow. And within all else she was, she was keeper and protector of the grief by which she cherished what she had lost.”[i]
Jayber Crow is describing his neighbor in Port William, Miss Gladdie Finn who in life has lost and loved much. And although I found myself ‘sticking into the ground’ the chopped up, dragged out roots of my front lilacs the other day, it’s the image of Miss Gladdie going about her small work with a big heart that is staying with me. What is the balance between keeping and letting go of our grief? Is there any value at all to its “keeping?”
Usually we’re counseled, and the world verily demands, that we move on through grief, be it 5 stages, 12 steps, 4 booklets or some other schema. We know we carry something forward, but we aren’t sure what or why. We also know that to tarry with a loss puts us at risk of being unavailable and, if your parents are like mine were, also at risk of hearing them say aloud or in your mind, “Well, now what? Get a move on!”
Perhaps Miss Gladdie has a word for us all. Even as we move forward from today, from whatever yesterdays have left us with loss, we can go forward with our grief better situated. Perhaps if it’s placed in the heart just right, the grief won’t improperly tie us to the one we’ve lost; rather it will serve as a marker of something, someone once cherished, and therefore remembered, and so still beloved. I like to think this can be a place from which we move, maybe even with the one now gone: inspired to do better, to care more, to try again.
[i] Berry, Wendell. Jayber Crow: the life story of Jayber Crow, barber of the Port William membership, as written by himself: a novel. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2000, page 141.