Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
(Naomi Shihab Nye)
Loss is a powerful issue in my life for reasons that are hard to pinpoint. Many others have had to deal more tragically with the issue than I but something in the depths of my heart are quite familiar with it. I think part of it was living on the margins of society in rural Arkansas in my youth but then practicing as a mental health clinicians for about twenty years, often dealing with tragically vulnerable adolescents and families also made its impact.
Loss is counter intuitive to what we are taught in our culture. We live in a “get, get, get” world, or as a pastor from my youth put it, “get all you can, and can all you get.” Our culture’s commercialism gives us an acquisitive orientation, dismissing the core of all great spiritual teachings that quality and depth in life is found in giving up the quest for “more.”
Two other poetic observations come to my mind, the first by Emily Dickinson who noted, “Renunciation is a piercing virtue, letting go of a presence for an expectation.” This “presence” is often the very “way things are” at a particular moment in our life and losing this certainty can threaten us to the very core of our being. When I entertain this vein of thought I always think of the wisdom of T.S. Eliot who noted the need to occasionally, “live in the breakage, in the collapse of what was believed in as most certain and therefore the fittest for renunciation.”
My country is in grave peril right now. Yes, the stock market is booming so all should be well. Yeah, yeah, yeah! But the very fabric of our being is now in question. “Truth,” which admittedly is not cut and dried, is now becoming totally self-serving so that the primary rule for defining truth is that “I want it” and “people like me want it to.” And this is a peril that faces the whole of our society, conservative and progressive. The issue is, “Can we see beyond our own nose? Can we, “see beyond the small bright circle of our consciousness, beyond which likes the darkness.” (Conrad Aiken) It is only in the darkness of allowing our certainties to be subject to questioning that the Grace of an always elusive Truth can whisper to us. Otherwise, another Eliot observation is relevant, we will be, “united by the strife which divided them.”
Here are two other blogs that I publish.