"Give Sorrow Words" & "Be Astonished, Tell About It"

What a strange, difficult, and beautiful time it’s been. I’ve found it harder and harder to blog as life has grown more intense. Highs are higher than they used to be, and lows, I’m sorry to say, are indeed lower. I think I expected age to bring more serenity and less drama, but that hasn’t been the case at all. The gift of living longer is loving more, and the cost of loving more is having more to lose. 

I’ve said it before and am committed to saying it as often as possible: I’m so incredibly lucky to know and love so many good, brilliant, and fascinating people. The downside of this is that it sucks when any one of them is in pain. Sadly, many of my loved ones have faced terrible challenges recently. I’ve also lost several beloveds over the past few years to illness, accident, violence, and age. I’m beginning to understand now that this kind of loss will continue and increase in frequency if I’m lucky enough to continue to age. This is obvious, of course, to everyone who has already lived past, say, the age of fifty, or to those who have experienced tremendous losses early. I understood it rationally before I felt it, but I feel it now. It’s daunting, to say the least, and sometimes I’m overwhelmed with the thought of so much grief. Grief I already carry and grief to come. How can any of us bear it without becoming bitter, lost, and hardened?

They say sharing our woes with others is part of the solution. It’s only natural. The hard parts of life need processing and release. Shakespeare said it well, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break”. I’m a believer in this, and frankly, I can bitch with the best of them. There’s *plenty* to bitch about, and more to outright protest and rage against. War, environmental destruction, gross abuse of power, constant injustice and violation of human rights. Never mind family woes and injuries I wouldn’t share in public. It’s a lot. For all of us. No matter your circumstances. 

But constant immersion in woe is no good for anyone. Neither is constant rejection of suffering. Buddhism and poetry and therapy have all taught me to practice, as much as possible, allowing my darkest feelings to coexist with what I’ll call my inner Mary Oliver, that is, my joy and wonder. I try to understand all feelings as connected and part of the spectrum of experience, rather than binary forces pitted against each other. The downward spiral of loss and fury isn’t a place to be avoided. It needs attention and acceptance and outlet. It also requires rounding and balance. 

Middle age, for me, has been a tender time so far. I was never completely footloose and fancy-free as a maiden, but I’m a lot less lighthearted than I used to be, I think, as the matron I’ve become. Still, the shadows that now drift with me are not entirely unwelcome. They’re soft. They’re more familiar than they once were. They help me notice and appreciate color, when it’s visible, all the more. As I walk the beach now, I look for things that are broken and weathered, not just the things that are whole and new. 

When I find a beautiful stone, I hold it close and then send it back out to those who need it. 

When I meet with loved ones, I feel a genuine sense of wealth and splendor. What a gift, what a treasure, to be in their presence at all. 

I try, as much as possible, to play and fuel any silly impulse. I still climb trees and make up songs and play with costumes. Even shadows love mischief. 

I hope you’ve seen it before, but if not, Mary Oliver’s “Instructions for Living a Life”, an excerpt from a longer poem titled “Sometimes”, is a delightful creed that I keep close to my heart as I navigate loss and fear:

“Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

-Mary Oliver

So there you have it. Another gentle effort to do just that. Thanks for reading. May you and your loved ones find relief and joy as needed.  

- Edie


Francesca Forrest said…
So glad to know you, even if only in this tenuous way. You are definitely looking at life with eyes unclouded; you are seeing the beauty and the pain. From my faraway perch, I love what you notice, how deeply you love, how profoundly you grief, how much fun you have when you're having fun. I hope joy continues to shine through in bright beams and shimmering curtains--and like a portal in a solid stone.
LBM said…
Thank you for the gentle and steady and heavy post. And the reclaiming of the word matron. May we carry it all with wisdom and sparks of delight in between.
C. S. E. Cooney said…
I felt this like a Mary Oliver poem.
CTB said…
Anonymous said…
As always, words of truth and sincerity. Thank you for keeping it real and so eloquently spoken.

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