Sunday, September 25, 2016

Well-Acquainted with Grief

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop on the heart until, against our will, in our own despair, comes wisdom from the awful grace of God.”   ~ Aeschylus


I collect certain people. Pack them into life’s travel bag, looking them up at the first sign of hardship and pain. I speed dial them in search of the comfort brought by their voices and presence.
These are my friends who are well-acquainted with grief.
 Grief tumbles off the page when I look at the assaults on their lives. Suicide of a parent. The death of a brother to AIDS.  Brain tumor in a grandson. Painful marriages and divorces. Emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Tragic death of a child. Painful betrayal by trusted people. But they have taken pain captive, these strong ones, looked it straight in the eyes, and gifted others with hard won comfort because grief talks to grief.
I seek out members of this tribe during my own seasons of struggle.
They display strength in the worst moments of life while remaining gentle and empathetic enough to respond to the pain they see in the rest of us. The hard moments leave a mark, but that mark isn’t named bitterness, or self-pity, or cold-heartedness.
Not everyone manages this feat.
One friend opened her farmhouse to strangers over the past year. The family of a man suffering from a brain aneurysm needed a place to stay while he received treatment in a nearby hospital far from their home. My friend soothed this frightened and hurting family, hosting them for two weeks during their season of turmoil, introducing them to horses, goats, chickens, and a paddle boat on the pond. Wonderful distractions from the worry.  
The visit would not end well.
The young mom would find herself an unexpected widow, and her children would find themselves fatherless. My friend offered all she had – her kindness and prayers and her home situated away from the sterile hospital environment. They fed the animals, paddle-boated on the pond, romped through the fields.
It’s messy to step into someone else’s loss. Words fail us, coming slowly. We feel awkward, unsure. But a person well-acquainted with grief knows what the hurting long to hear.
 Nearly 50 years ago when Martin Luther King was assassinated, riots erupted throughout the country. But one man, well-acquainted with grief himself, calmed an Indianapolis crowd in a poor section of the city. The crowd waited to hear Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, but they hadn’t heard yet about King’s assassination. Kennedy shared the news with them, connecting to the crowd by referencing his own pain experienced after the death of his brother, President John F. Kennedy. Then he recited one of his favorite poems:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,

against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God. 
~ Aeschylus
Many other American cities burned that night after King was killed. But calm descended on Indianapolis. Kennedy's grief spoke to their grief, helping to usher in calm.
Eventually we all experience loss and grief. No one gets out of this life without scars. Some lives just seem more battered than others. But I love these battered people with all their beautiful wounds and scars and wide-open hearts that have eyes to see and ears to hear the sometimes unspoken pain in others.

“A man of sorrows, well-acquainted with grief.” My favorite description of the Incarnate God, unflinching in the face of hardship and death.  These folks emulate Him.


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