"The Uses of Sorrow"
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
-Mary Oliver, Thirst, 2006
I have grief and loss on the brain tonight. There are the obvious reasons why this may be so - the loss of my aunt and the fact that grief,loss and their relationship to the human existence were a main topic of the lecture in my class this morning top that list. The poem above was written on the whiteboard before class began. Our class was about more than the simple topics of grief and loss - it is a class which has the purpose of introducing students to basic listening skills and the foundations for developing a pastoral presence with others. Much of what we discuss deals with the fundamentals of human interpersonal experience and, like it or not, grief, loss, anger and conflict are inseparable from more desirable experiences such as love, joy, and intimacy.
Yesterday I heard Andrew explaining to one of our neighbors the difference between arteries and veins. Veins, apparently, are a low pressure system. The blood is flowing back to the heart and takes its time. When you take blood from a vein you need to draw it out, coax it from its leisurely path. Arteries, on the other hand, are high pressure. They are full of freshly oxygenated and just-pumped blood. To take blood from an artery you just need to nick it. Once its open the blood will pump itself right out, all over. Our bodies are pretty smart - we keep our veins close to the surface and bury the arteries nice and deep, where its harder to get at them. Grief, loss, anger and conflict feel dangerous and vulnerable to me, like suddenly all my emotional arteries are up at the top, where the veins full of joy and happy should be.
At the same time, I think that these perilous artery-type feelings are sort of like the artery blood. They come from the heart of who I am as a person - that strange and strong central muscle that beats seemingly all on its own, keeping me moving, breathing, living and clean. Without conflict, loss, grief, and even anger I would be so much less alive. Still, even knowing this, I'd hardly choose it for myself or anyone I love.
I am so thankful to read blogs by first moms, and by adult adoptees. They (you, for those of you who are my companions here) help me stay in touch with the loss that my daughter and her first mother have experienced and prepare for the grief she may feel as she grows and incorporates that loss into her identity. It is a unique thing, to be adopted. It is, perhaps, its own box full of darkness.