This Strange Thing Called Grief

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Morning light spills into my tiny kitchen, painting ripples of light on the cottage walls -- the benediction of a new day. In my bedroom, over FaceTime, my boyfriend sleeps soundly beneath the companionable silence of long-distance love. Coffee drips slowly, punctuating the soft rumble of Josh Garrel's Break Bread. My cat, still a wide-eyed kitten, peers around my laptop as I type. Sunrise and thoughts of the future have raised me from sleep. Instead of classes and reading lists, jobs and new pages are the new rhythm of my life.

Cottage.

Boyfriend.

Cat.

Jobs.

So much has changed. In only two months.

It's strange how one can blink and home, friends, setting, even the you one once knew seems like a lifetime away.

It's a strange thing, this sense of fleeting oddness. Of permeating displacement. Of bittersweet melancholy. Of a quiet ache that slips quietly in during an ordinary moment that suddenly overwhelms. So much has changed. So much is different. For better, for worse.

Grief, I think, is the name for it.

The boy and I went for a midnight stroll on campus one night, beneath the softly glowing lampposts and canopied trees. Everything was hushed, still, and dearly familiar as ever. The occasional laughs and snippets of conversation from over-eager freshmen carried over the breeze as they too wandered with older students, part of the summer experience before their first semester begins.

In comes the new. The young. The bright-eyed.

We stopped almost immediately, he and I. The old. The ones who had come and gone. The quiet-eyed. Our hands linked, yet pausing.

Wavering.

Reduced to strange silence as we stood in a place that had been our home and that now, without our permission or even desire, was no longer ours.

This is strange, he said quietly. I looked up at him in the night shadows and lamplight mingled with moon + star light, and said nothing.

There was nothing to say.

How does one say goodbye to a place that has already forgotten you? To a life that is no longer yours? To a world that keeps moving without you?

We stood there for some moments, in the hushed darkness, silently paying our respects. Passing lampposts like lit candles by pilgrims, aware that no longer were we parishioners but merely visitors, moving through the leafy cathedral flanked by brick and stone, steps and benches.

It felt like a dream - one that tasted sad and sweet on my tongue. We continued walking, hand in hand, and I shivered. Understanding at last, that my time there had ended.

Time. So long and quick. So short and far.

I understood, too, finally, that time-travel was indeed real. We stood in the same place, upon stone and earth, and yet time was different.

Perhaps we were different. We're not young, the boy said, quiet thoughtfulness in his eyes. We are and we aren't. Not that young. Not young enough to belong anymore in the place that had been our home for so long. Time and space are different for us now.

We left hours later, quieter. Yet at peace.

It's funny, this strange thing called grief.

We mourn what was good almost as much as we mourn what was sad. Bitter and sweet. Change and solidity. Isolation and togetherness. Shadows and lampposts.

My cat curls on the toaster oven, basking in a patch of sunlight. So much seems different and unfamiliar to him. My boy sleeps on the screen of my phone, peaceful and dreaming. Two months ago we were merely friends.

So much has changed.

Of Rain and Beauty

Thursday, September 1, 2016

via
It is raining again...prompting soft thoughts of beauty and loveliness. 

There is a reason, I think, why museums are so delightfully crammed on grey, stormy days. Art, simple and complex, muddled with colors and caressed with strokes of a brush. Oil and color and vision swirled together in a swath of emotion and lines and life, made all the more vivid on days of gloom and dampness. 

Why music, soft and haunting, fills the spaces and moments of quiet. The aching strains of a violin and deep throbbing of a cello that touch the air, the soul, with a gentle, discernible mark. With a stain of loveliness so sweet and secret that tears almost form. Breath catches, spirit stills. And wonder fills, swells, rises beneath our skin. 

Why the verdant green of trees and leaves becomes more lush, more magical, more deep somehow, keen and fresh in the feather-soft grey of an overcast day. 

Why we turn to tea and coffee and chocolate, in frail cups with thin petals of china, and sturdy mugs of solidity and warmth. Finding comfort, and strangely enough, the sense of home and belonging in the warm stain of pale brown clouded with creamy milk or deep and dark and rich, secure in a bitterness that is curiously sweet to our souls. 

Why books, the dearest and oldest friends for so many, beckon and embrace with the gentle weight of words. Words that enfold us, fill our mind and senses, flowing across the page and into our fingers, imbuing our blood with story and hues, songs and poetry -- flashes of feelings and places that perhaps we have known, or only dreamed of. 

Beauty so curiously and wonderfully marks our souls. Stirs us. It moves and changes, always for the better, our understanding of creation and even ourselves. Beautiful things...lovely things. They are so precious and small. And yet --like all lovely things, like all of creation-- so much grander and larger than themselves. 

Mozart's Requiem is always bigger when you return to it. Time is leaven to lovely things, writes Joshua Gibs. Beautiful, gentle, lovely words themselves that settle and warm deep within:

"There are certain substances (maybe all substances) that can be so rendered, affected, touched, furnished, submitted— loved, really— that they do not break against the heavy leaning weight of time, but grow as time pours into them. When you taste a fine Pecorino, you are not merely tasting milk, but milk and time. Time is powerful and violent and terrible, but love can tame time. The Acropolis is stone which has tamed time. The blue in the windows at Chartres Cathedral is a color which has tamed time. Wine is grape juice which has tamed time. The Nicene Creed is a poem which has tamed time."
Joshua Gibs

There is something haunting, something humbling and awe-inspiring in that...what I find beautiful and lovely, what moves and stirs me, has been found beautiful by, has moved, has stirred countless other souls, before me, and will, after me. Time passes and leans and grows and deepens, and still these things of beauty, of loveliness, go on. 

Time is leaven to lovely things. We must hunger after them, after the beautiful and the good, as George Eliot says. 

I sit, hushed and silent, notebooks piled near, cup of coffee a dear companion, facing a window --always, always a window and clear, soft light -- to see the rain, filling my ears with gentle quivering notes of Ennio Morricone coaxed into air by Yo-Yo Ma. 

And keeping my heart, my mind, my soul open to receive these lovely things that are beautiful and good.