Sorrow, Gladness, and the Stream of Living Things

Seeking sweet refuge in the earth’s mystery and beauty


| July-August 2010


I have felt the comfort and reassurance of wet, wild places—the steady surge and flow of the sea on sand, water slipping over stones. There is meaning in the natural rhythms of dying and living, winter and spring, bones and leaves. Even in times of bewilderment or despair, there is the steadfast ground underfoot—pine duff, baked clay, stone turned red in the rain. I am trying to understand this, the power of water, air, earth, and time to bring gladness gradually from grief and to restore meaning to lives that seem empty or unmoored.

One autumn, my life became an experiment in sadness. A friend drowned. Another died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. My father-in-law faded away like steam from stones. Then another friend was killed in a head-on collision.

I don’t know what despair is, if it’s something or nothing, a kind of filling up or an emptying out. I don’t know what sorrow does to the world, what it adds or takes away. What I think I do know now is that sorrow is part of the earth’s great cycles, flowing into the night like cool air sinking down a river course.

To feel sorrow is to float on the pulse of the earth, the surge from living to dying, from coming into being to ceasing to exist. Maybe this is why the earth has the power over time to wash sorrow into a deeper pool, cold and shadowed. And maybe this is why, even though sorrow never disappears, it can make a deeper connection to the currents of life and so connect, somehow, to sources of wonder and solace. I don’t know.

And I don’t know what gladness is or where it comes from, this splitting open of the self. It takes me by surprise. Not an awareness of beauty and mystery, but beauty and mystery themselves, flooding into a mind suddenly without boundaries. Can this be gladness, to be lifted by that flood?

 






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