by Charles LaFond
It gives me a measure of peace that the Hebrew word for God’s Glory, Kavod, is a word of weights and measures – a word with an inherent heaviness to it. Grief is heavy. It drags one down like a burlap bag of scrap metal over one’s shoulder – it weighs down, heavy, and sharp metal ends – jagged, rusty tear-stained bits poke through the burlap and then the shirt into one’s fleshy back. And there is then sticky blood with sticky sweat. Grief is sticky too.
The circumstances of life take people and things from us. It seems so unfair in the moment, but I remind myself in the reading of this chapter that the pain does subside over time and that things simply do not stay the same. Would I like it if they did? Really? I say “yes” when in the moment of grief – “yes, I want things to stay the same! Yes!” but then when I look back over the arc of my life, I can see that the griefs appear on the time line like drops of blood, dark and crispy and even flakey. But from a distance they are small, insignificant – so unlike how they felt in the moment.
I am not good at self-care, largely because my parents never taught it. I am, as are so many, having to parent myself. I am having to coach my inner 1-6 year-old that I am ok. I am having to parent my 9-11 year-old self that the world is safe to explore. I am having to parent my inner teenager that some things need to be set aside. And I am needing my inner adult to host these conversations well – especially when I feel grief. So let this chapter on grief remind me that I am my friend too and that I can now care for myself and can let my friends and family care for me when I am in grief. Let me find the soft chairs, the warm wood fires and the oily, satin haunches of my dog Kai on which to lay my head in grief’s heaviness.
But let me also know that the heaviness of grief is heavy because of God’s glory. When I grieve, God descends and though my eyes are slits and watery, there is glory all around me in the colors of sunsets. And let me remember too that the colors of sunsets and those of sunrises are so often similar – such that the end of something might just be the beginning of something else. Can I let go of the one to take the other?
Nothing is certain. Everything is changing. Always. And that change brings grief the way fire brings smoke. So let me allow grief to knock at my door and let me even welcome it to the warm fire with a glass of port and some warm Blue Saga Cheese on a good, dark, stormy ginger snap and let us talk together, grief and me, about what is lost and what might be ‘round the next corner both.
Writing the chapter on grief
Honesty is the most important tool in writing a Rule of Life. It seems obvious and yet in a book about writing a Rule of Life I need to say a word about honesty. I am not dishonest. I would even go so far as to say I am honest. On the Enneagram I am a Loyalist – a six- which means I am honest and loyal to the end with good, honest people.
Pontius Pilate actually held and spoke the best question in our scriptures “What is Truth?“ Now, I admit, his question may not have been capitalized – I did that as poetic license. But I think that is what was going on and still is. What is Truth. Sometimes even, what is TRUTH?
There are two cancers of the spiritual life: nostalgia and fantasy. Nostalgia is the lies of the past. Fantasy is the lies of the present and the future. These cancers can be found in people, in marriages, in families and in churches – and, like cancers they will kill, hidden. But before they kill they will, like most cancers, eat away at flesh and drag down health end energy.
If one were not careful, a Rule of life can become, for anyone, an exercise in self-directed manipulation. If one is not careful when writing one’s Rule of Life, the document can be a program, a massive PR scam by you, to you and for you. This is so tricky. Too often, in religious communities, a Rule of life is really just a public relations scam screaming “This is who we are!” rather than “This is who we aspire to be and are often not yet, but are, together, trying to be!”
The Rule of life document you are writing is, by its nature, a document which is meant to remind you of who you want to be when you are being your best self. And that is good. It is very good in fact! And that is why I am writing this series on crafting your own Rule of life. A Rule of Life is an astounding technology for living a life of integrity and “whole-heartedness” as Brene Brown might say. But beware. The scales can so easily tip, and you can find yourself writing your own version of nostalgia or fantasy – words which present a past which is a lie or pretend a future which is a lie. Yes, the Rule of Life must be aspirational. But it also must be honest. Brutally honest. Or, like anything in the spiritual life, it can convert from medicine to poison.
Chapter XIII – Loss
Grief – dancing with the limp
There will be loss. Inevitably. There’ll be loss. I will need to let go of things, and not letting go of them will only bring me pain. I will need to let go of hopes and dreams, of imaginings and expectations, and of nostalgia and fantasy – the lies of past, present and future. Let this chapter be a reminder that things will never, ever stay the same. Things will always change and the suffering will not come from the change but rather, from the pain of my own thoughts and their yammering about how things should not change. Things will change and that change will bring loss while it also brings new things, new opportunities, new people, new jobs, new homes, new settings and new losses.
So there will be loss. I have lost all smell and taste. There is loss. But I have gained a deeper sense of the need to care for people and take great care regarding the people with whom I connect. People will be lost to me – grandparents, parents, youth, – they will die. But with loss comes something else. With loss comes spaciousness for new things to appear and take their place. New recipes, new friends, new art, new passions, new lovers, new hopes and dreams. For surely the new is the only prize for having lost so much.
We will lose things and people. They will move or we will, or life will, change. And the great work is to feel the loss – really feel it. And then, once felt, honor the loss: “Yes. I have lost that. I loved it and I have lost it and now I must move on without it.” But I sense that God is like the water which works in and around shards of dry clay – the water and the clay changes. God invades our loss and our grief – softening them, hydrating them so that from the softened clay comes again, clay; from which some new cup is made, for some new drink, in some new meal; and all shall be well, again.