The heartbreaking news is passed on indirectly as these things so often are. I do not know the family and have no real connection to their lives.

But, our granddaughters play with their children, and now their youngest has died. Even at this distance, I feel the chill of loss pass through me like a dark cloud obscuring the sun.

There are no words that can diminish the terrible ache such an event leaves in its wake. No words should dare try to alleviate the pain or answer the unanswerable questions in the face of such grief. There are no explanations, no easy answers; it just feels wrong for a small child to die.

Love rises up against the heart break of loss.

This is not unhealthy clinging; it is the price we pay for opening deeply to another person. It is the cost of sharing and cherishing the beauty of life. We sacrifice safety, security, and self-protection in exchange for giving ourselves to another and receiving the other as fully as we are able. In this process we open ourselves to pain.

The only way to prevent this suffering is to wall ourselves away in a protective fortress never allowing anyone to come near the deepest part of our being. The price of safety is too high. We were created for this costly venture of love; without it we miss our destiny as beings created in the image of Love.

In 1829 Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) met Arthur Henry Hallam at Trinity College, Cambridge, both were just twenty-years-old. They shared a love of poetry and became deeply committed to one another in friendship. Hallam visited often with Tennyson’s family and fell in love with Alfred’s younger sister 18-year-old Emily, a relationship of which her father disapproved.

In July 1833, Arthur Henry Hallam was traveling in Vienna when suddenly and unexpectedly he died of a stroke. He was twenty-two-years old.

For seventeen years, Tennyson struggled to come to terms with his pain by writing about this loss; the outcome was the epic poem, “In Memoriam A.H.H.” The most famous lines in this poem appear in Canto 27, where Tennyson wrote,

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

It may be small comfort, but it is true nonetheless; it is “better to have loved and lost” than to never have risked the rich blessing and gift of opening the deepest part of oneself to embrace another human being. This is true no matter how short the embrace in this earthly material time-bound realm.

Tennyson’s long poem contains another much less famous line in which, even in the face of the finality of his friend’s death, Tennyson is able to affirm,

Long sleeps the summer in the seed. (Canto 105)

In the past three decades I have witnessed acres of grief. I have walked with people through unimaginable brokenness. I have experienced a burden of sadness that appeared at times utterly unendurable.

And yet, again and again, I have seen people I would expect to have been shattered by their circumstances, rise up and choose to live. I have seen at work in them a force of life that transcends death and is stronger than all the pain love might ever bring trailing in its glory.

By some inexplicable process there is “summer in the seed.” It is born in the deepest darkness; it grows in the moment that seems unbearable.

All I know for sure, in the face of the great sadness life brings, is that, when I bear the darkness and refuse to turn away, I open more deeply to the seed of life. This is no anesthetic. But perhaps there is here a small hope that behind the darkness that clouds this moment, the sun does still shine. And, if I work today to keep my eyes open to the light, I may catch a glimpse of its brightness.

 

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