Silence and darkness grow apace, broken only by the crack of a hunter’s gun in the woods. Songbirds abandon us so gradually that, until the day when we hear no birdsong at all but the scolding of the jay, we haven’t fully realized that we are bereft — as after a death. Even the sun has gone off somewhere… Now we all come in, having put the garden to bed, and we wait for winter to pull a chilly sheet over its head. ~Jane Kenyon from “Good-by and Keep Cold”
Every day now we hear hunters firing in the woods and the wetlands around our farm, most likely aiming for the few ducks that have stayed in the marshes through the winter, or possibly a Canadian goose or a deer to bring home for the freezer. The usual day-long symphony of birdsong is replaced by shotguns popping, hawks and eagle screams and chittering, the occasional dog barking, with the bluejays and squirrels arguing over the last of the filbert nuts.
In the clear cold evenings, when coyotes aren’t howling in the moonlight, the owls hoot to each other across the fields from one patch of woods to another, their gentle resonant conversation echoing back and forth. The horses confined to their stalls in the barns snort and blow as they bury their noses in flakes of summer-bound hay.
But there are no birdsong arias now, leaving me bereft of their blending musical tapestry that wake me at 4 AM in the spring. No peeper orchestra from the swamps in the evenings, rising and falling on the breeze.
It is too too quiet.
The chilly silence of the darkened days is now interrupted by all percussion, no melody at all. I listen intently for early morning and evening serenades returning.
It won’t be long.
We all want happy endings.
But “happily ever after” doesn’t happen
without the shattered hopes and dreams,
broken hearts and painful beginnings and middles.
What we owe to ourselves and our children
is to learn how to forge through sadness,
plow through sorrow
in order to fertilize and grow beauty,
right there in the middle of ugly.
If we aren’t the farmer,
the guardian of beauty,
Beloved and blessed
And so you have a life that you are living only now,
now and now and now,
gone before you can speak of it,
and you must be thankful for living day by day,
moment by moment …
a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
~Lustravit lampade terras~
(He has illumined the world with a lamp)
The weather and my mood have little connection.
I have my foggy and my fine days within me;
my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter.
– Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
Is my gloom, after all, Shade of His hand,
outstretched caressingly? ~Francis Thompson from “The Hound of Heaven”
My days are filled with anxious and sad patients, one after another after another. They sit at the edge of their seat, struggling to hold back the flood from brimming eyes, fingers gripping the arms of the chair. Each moment, each breath, each heart beat overwhelmed by questions: will there be another breath? must there be another breath? Must life go on like this in fear of what the next moment will bring?
The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the knowledge that the next moment will be just like the last or perhaps worse. There is no recognition of a moment just passed that can never be retrieved and relived. There is only fear of the next and the next so that the now and now and now is lost forever.
Worry and sorrow and angst are contagious as the flu.
I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day.
I wish we could be vaccinated to protect us all from these unnamed fears.
I want to say to them and myself:
Stop this moment in time. Stop and stop and stop.
Stop expecting someone or some thing must fix this feeling.
Stop wanting to be numb to all discomfort.
Stop resenting the gift of each breath.
Instead, simply be.
I want to say:
this moment, foggy or fine, is yours alone,
this moment of weeping and sharing
and breath and pulse and light.
Shout for joy in it.
Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips
and stop holding them back.
Stop me before I write,
out of my own anxiety,
yet another prescription
you don’t really need.
and be blessed–
in the now and now and now.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.
~Richard Wilbur from “Year’s End”
The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year, Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear. Heaped in the hollows of the grove, the autumn leaves lie dead; They rustle to the eddying gust, and to the rabbit’s tread. The robin and the wren are flown, and from the shrubs the jay, And from the wood-top calls the crow through all the gloomy day. ~William Cullen Bryant from “The Death of the Flowers”
These dark, icy, and sodden days are scarcely recalled while basking in the lightness of June when the sun shines 19 hours a day.
There is no way to cope with such overwhelming darkness except by adding in a few minutes more a day over six months, otherwise the shock of leaving behind the light would be too great. Howling wind knocks and batters, freezing rain beats mercilessly at the window panes to coat everything with a 1/4 inch of ice, puddles stand deeper than they appear, mud sucks off boots, leaves are thoroughly shaken from embarrassed branches.
We have no remnant of summer civility and frivolity left; we must adapt or cry trying, only adding to a pervasive sogginess.
Nevertheless, these melancholy days have their usefulness — there are times of joyful respite from frenetic activity while reading, snuggled deep under quilts, safe and warm. Without such stark contrast, the light and bright time of year would become merely routine, yet just another sunny day.
That never happens here in the Pacific northwest.
We celebrate the emerging light with real thanksgiving and acknowledge this encompassing darkness makes our gratitude more genuine.
We are privileged to live within such a paradox: there is, after all, a certain gladness in our sadness.
The snow is melting and the village is flooded with children. ~Kobayashi Issa (translated by Robert Haas)
A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. Matthew 2:18 and Jeremiah 31:15
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple, Or cosy in a crib beside the font, But he is with a million displaced people| On the long road of weariness and want. For even as we sing our final carol His family is up and on that road, Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel, Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,| The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power, And death squads spread their curse across the world. But every Herod dies, and comes alone To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.
~Malcolm Guite from Waiting on the Word
And the slaughter of innocents and weary road for refugees continues unabated- In observance of The Feast Day of the Holy Innocents:
There is no consolation for the families of those lost:
Their arms ache with emptiness tonight,
beds and pillows lie cold and unused,
blankets and cuddlies await all night hugs
that never come again.
There can be no consolation;
only mourning and great weeping,
sobbing that wrings dry
every human cell,
leaving dust behind,
dust, only dust
which is beginning
He came to us
for times such as this,
the dust of woman and
the breath of Spirit,
God who bent down to
lie in manger dust,
walk on roads of dust,
die and be laid to rest as dust
in order to conquer
such evil as this
that could displace masses
and massacre innocents.
He became dust to be
He began a mere speck in a womb
so often washed away from life
His heart beat
breathing each breath
until a fearful fallen world
and our breath
He shines through
the shadows of death
to guide our stumbling uncertain feet.
His tender mercies flow freely
when there is no consolation
when there is no comfort.
He hears our cries
as He cried too.
He knows our tears
as He wept too.
He knows our mourning
as He mourned too.
He knows our dying
as He died too.
as this happened.
Evil comes not from God
yet humankind embraces it.
Sin is a choice
we made from the beginning,
a choice we continue to make.
Only God can glue together
what evil has shattered.
He just asks us to hand Him
the pieces of our broken hearts.
We will know His peace
when He comes
to bring us home,
our tears will finally be dried,
our cells no longer
never only dust
as we are glued together
by the breath of God
the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. Luke 1: 78-79
They sing their dearest songs — He, she, all of them — yea, Treble and tenor and bass, And one to play; With the candles mooning each face…. Ah, no; the years O! How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!
They clear the creeping moss — Elders and juniors — aye, Making the pathways neat And the garden gay; And they build a shady seat…. Ah, no; the years, the years; See, the white storm-birds wing across!
They are blithely breakfasting all — Men and maidens — yea, Under the summer tree, With a glimpse of the bay, While pet fowl come to the knee…. Ah, no; the years O! And the rotten rose is ript from the wall.
They change to a high new house, He, she, all of them — aye, Clocks and carpets and chairs On the lawn all day, And brightest things that are theirs…. Ah, no; the years, the years; Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs. ~Thomas Hardy “During Wind and Rain”
A waning November moon reluctantly rose, dimming from the full globe of the night before. I drive a darkening country road, white lines sweeping past, aware of advancing frost in the evening haze, anxious to return home to familiar warmth and light.
Nearing a county road corner, slowing to a stop, I glanced aside where
a lonely rural cemetery sits expectant. Through open iron gates and tenebrous headstones, there in the middle path, incongruous,
car’s headlights beamed bright. I puzzled, thinking:
lovers or vandals would seek inky cover of night. Instead, these lights focused on one soul alone, kneeling graveside,
a hand resting heavily on a stone, head bowed in prayer. This stark moment of solitary sorrow,
a visible grieving of a heart illuminated by twin beams.
This benediction of mourning
as light pierced the blackness; gentle fingertips traced
the engraved letters of a beloved name. Feeling touched
as uneasy witness, I pull away to drive deeper into the night,
struggling to see despite
my eyes’ thickening mist.
~Emily Gibson – “Grief Illuminated”