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Friday, December 21, 2012

Sorrow and Joy for the Season

Two weeks ago, I attended a memorial service for a friend whose daughter died in an accident while snorkling.  She was a lovely, active and engaged young lady, a senior at the University of Virginia and only 22 years old.   There were well over a thousand people there, some who knew her, some who did not but wanted to pay their respects.  The service was beautiful, both parents spoke concluding with the remark about how "thankful" they were - thankful to have had their daughter in their life, thankful for her life.  At the time, and sharing their grief, I thought "what could be worse than this pain?"  Now I know. Newtown was worse.

The only real comfort is seeing how good and decent  people have responded by the thousands, even tens of thousands to a horrible evil with an out-pouring of sympathy, condolences, prayer, peace and love. A poem quoted at the memorial service described the unconscionable in beautiful terms:
This is the Hour of Lead-
Remembered, if outlived,
As freezing persons,
recollect the Snow-
First-Chill-then Stupor-
then the letting go---” 
Emily Dickinson
And yet we go on.  I've taken comfort during all the grim news with Peter Matthiessen's "The Snow Leopard" published in 1978.  This is a beautiful description of his trek with biologist George Schaller to the Tibetan plateau to study the unique wildlife of that region. In addition to his breath-taking portrayal of the vast loveliness of that area, the emptiness and serenity as well as the harshness of it, he includes us in a spiritual voyage and that too is uplifting.  One quote in particular seems appropriate for today:
"The wildwood brings on mild nostalgia, not for home or place, but for lost innocence -- the paradise lost that, as Proust said, is the only paradise. Childhood is full of mystery and  promise, and perhaps the life fear comes when all the mysteries are laid open, when what we thought we wanted is attained.  It is just at the moment of seeming fulfillment that we sense irrevocable betrayal, like a great wave rising silently behind us...'All wordly pursuits have but one unavoidable and inevitable end, which is sorrow: acquisitions end in dispersion; buildings, in destruction; meetings, in separation; births, in death...' Confronted by the uncouth specter of old age, disease, and death, we are thrown back upon the present, on this moment, here, right now, for that is all there is. And surely this is the paradise of children, that they are at rest in the present..."
The Mayan prediction that the world will end today isn't all  wrong - it will end someday. So live and find joy in the present moment, forever!