Grief and Gratitude

Lately, the events around me have looked somewhat like a bad country song:

My cat died, a dear friend died, half my town burned down. And there are things happening all over the world that merit grief: shootings in Paris, fires in Indonesia, Syrian genocide. The approaching holidays for many of us involve mixed feelings about family dynamics—whether we’re with them or not. We rush around like ants, buying food, searching for the right gifts. Those of us in Lake County wait for tree crews to clear the road so we can pass through on the one lane that will take us to our destinations. This is real.

This morning, my first full day at home in a long time, I lit a fire in my woodstove and sat cross-legged in front of it. I wrapped my hands around a warm cup of tea, and I let myself bask in the heat from the living flames just as my cat used to do for long stretches of hours in the winter, every fiber of her furry being thrumming with the joy of warmth. Outside my window, tiny birds sat on the tippy-top twigs of a giant oak tree, where every day they wait to catch the first rays of sun, breasts and necks and beaks outstretched. Yesterday, I took an old mountain road through a forest that was lit up with golden fall maple leaves, bursts of rich color in a deep dark place. This, also, is real.

Oh, the heartache and beauty of being human. Can we give the joy just as much weight as the heartache? Can we find the gifts in the grief? I read a letter online written by Antoine Leiris to the people who killed his wife in Paris last week. He wrote:

“You stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you won’t have my hatred. . . . You want me to be afraid, to view my fellow countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my freedom for security. You have lost. . . . I don’t have any more time to devote to you. I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17 months old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.”

Can we be fully present where we are? Can we jump into all that life is? Can we see and feel the reality of our pain, and can we still choose to infuse our patch of earth with love and grace and freedom? This is not easy. This takes work, looking at who we really are and how we have reacted to events in our lives. It takes extreme gentleness and stark honesty. Sometimes it takes allowing others to hold us, to help us see ourselves more clearly. But each of us truly does have a choice.

This morning, I sat like a cat in front of my fire and let its heat warm my heart. I felt the ache of grief. I let the gratitude course through my being, for all that my friend JT taught me while he was alive, for the widower in Paris who is loving his child with an open, aching heart, for the tiny birds reminding me to look to the rising sun in each new day.

I wish you peace, deep joy, and truth in the midst of all that life brings you this month.