Catastrophe and beauty, loss and joy

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I had a difficult weekend.  For reasons that I understood and those that I did not, by Sunday afternoon I felt raw and exhausted and emotional and cranky.  Matt and Grace went off to an afternoon of soccer games, and Whit and I headed to do a bunch of errands.  I was aggravated and short, and even as I snapped I knew that I was trying to head off a tide of sorrow.  After returning a couple of things, driving home in a clear, perfect fall afternoon, I suddenly turned into the local cemetery.  We drove back towards the tower that is one of our favorite places.

As we wound through the cemetery towards the tower, I noticed the tree above.  I gasped, pulled over, rolled down my window, and took the picture.  I think it’s my favorite of this entire fall.  Isn’t that always the way?  The most off-hand moments, the things we notice as we’re passing by, the mundane thing our son said after the bath on a Tuesday.  These become our favorite, our most cherished.    I heard the reminder: pay attention.

We climbed the tower, and the views were beautiful, but there were lots of people around.  Whit pulled on my hand and whispered in my ear, “Let’s go.  Maybe there aren’t any people at the fairy stream.”

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The fairy stream was empty, and so I perched on a rock and watched Whit as he began building cairns.  This is one of his favorite things to do lately.  My eyes filled with tears behind my sunglasses and my face crumpled as I began to cry in earnest.  I looked away, not wanting Whit to see.  There was a knot over my heart that felt like nothing less than all of life – catastrophe and beauty, loss and joy.  I looked up at the blue sky and listened to the wind rustling the trees around us and to the gentle burble of the stream.

My breath was ragged.  I blinked rapidly as the blue sky swam in my eyes.  Something physically hurt in my chest.  This is what heartache is, I thought.

“Mum?” Whit’s voice broke into my thoughts.  I looked at him but he was concentrating on his rocks.  “You could meditate to this sound,” he offered as he balanced a small, flat stone on another rounder one.  “You know, like the waves on calm dot com.”

I didn’t trust my voice not to waver so I just nodded when he glanced up.  I watched him and he continued stacking rocks, watching them fall, and starting again.  I don’t know how long we sat there, but eventually I became aware of the snarl where my heart is easing slightly.  I kept breathing, watching the yellow leaves above me dancing in the wind.

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“Mum!  Look!”  Whit held out a rock.  I smiled when I saw that it was heart-shaped, and he held it up to the left side of his chest.  “We should bring this back for Grace.”  He handed it to me and I said, “Good idea,” my voice normal now.

How astonishing this world is, I thought, as I sat under a cornflower October sky and watched my son balance rocks on top of each other.  It makes me so weary, always being open to the sorrow that beats right underneath the surface of every day, but I don’t know any other way to live.  I cry so often, and I’m prone to having my breath literally knocked out of me by the world’s sharp edges, but I can just as easily feel the wind on my skin, marvel at the light on leaves, and feel the radiance and majesty of this life pulsing through my veins alongside my own blood.

I am an extremely porous person; this unavoidable truth manifests in so many ways in my life, big and small, bright and dark, apparent and invisible.  My wound allows me to live in a state of near-perpetual wonder.  Every single day contains grandeur and terror.  I write about this over and over again, but apparently I still need to learn it.  On a day when so much felt so hard, all I had to do was sit in the sun and listen to the quiet bubble of a familiar fairy stream and watch my son working with rocks.  The world ministered to me.  Even when I feel sharp and heavy things inside of me, there is still this, this splendid, beautiful, broken world, this array of ordinary and startling riches, as bright as red leaves against the blue sky.

There is still my son reaching up to take my hand as we walk home in the silence.  And today, that is enough.

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26 Comments

  1. Posted October 23, 2013 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    Kahlil Gibran wrote that “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.”

    Hoping that the sharp & heavy things feel a bit lighter today. Namaste, friend.

    admin Reply:

    Oh, yes. I love that. And he also said something about the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain, right? That’s the line I think about all the time. xox

  2. Kathie
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Mt. Auburn is a beautiful cemetery. My last visit was 4 years ago when one of my dearest friends was buried there. So sorry to hear it’s been a difficult time. It is surprising sometimes that we can find peace – and even a moment of happiness – amidst sadness/frustration/unease, and it seems as though you achieved that this weekend. xo

    admin Reply:

    Yes, I did. I didn’t mean this post to be all gloomy and a downer – more that there is always so much loveliness around us!! xox

  3. Erin
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I find myself returning to this quote from my girl Pema Chodron: “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us…It was all about letting go of everything.” When I feel similarly (which is…often) I try to remind myself of this. And I try to pay attention. XO

    admin Reply:

    Wow, I love that quote. I hadn’t heard it. Wonderful.

  4. Posted October 23, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Lovely, so lovely.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you. xox

  5. Abby
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I am routinely floored and sometimes brought to tears by how incredibly beautiful Ash trees are this autumn. Thank you so much for your posts, Lindsey.

    admin Reply:

    Thank YOU. Is that an ash tree? I did not know! Extraordinary. The only short story I’ve ever published began with an observation about fall leaves, and about how their flaming glory comes as they die – what a paradox, and yet maybe not. xox

  6. Posted October 23, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    The exquisite sting of heartache, the tremors that threaten to fell even the strongest among us, they are the expense of loving and living in wonder.

    Hugs to you and peace upon your heart.

    admin Reply:

    It is more comforting than you probably realize for me to know there’s someone out there who I know feels these same tremors, this same sting. Thank you. xox

  7. Dianna
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    “The world ministered to me” – such and simple and beautiful way to capture the essence of what is happening when the magic of the natural world brings a calm you did not think possible at a given moment. I love that phrase and will think of it often as moments similar to the one you describe have become essential for me as I struggle through life’s big changes right now. Thank you as always.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so much – I wish you much calm and some well-timed ministry as you make it through what sounds like some big transitions. xox

  8. Posted October 23, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry things are tough for you right now but I’m glad you were still able to let the light of the wonderful things around you give you comfort. Hugging you from here…xxoo
    -H

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so, so much. xox

  9. Posted October 23, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    So lovely, Lindsey. I too had a hard weekend- there were some obvious reasons I could point to, but there was also an undercurrent of sadness that I’m not sure is anything but what it is. Meaning it’s not caused by anything, it’s just sadness rising to the surface. Sometimes we just need to let it out. I really loved and needed to read this today. Thank you, xoxo.

    admin Reply:

    Exactly. Just sadness that’s there, always, rising up for some reason. And I’ve certainly learned that (for me at least) acknowledging that sorrow when it arises is far more productive than trying to squash it down.

  10. Amy
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Beautiful as always, Lindsey. I was thinking about your writing about light/dark this weekend as I noticed darker mornings and evenings and I think I must’ve been mourning too (it was a rough weekend). Thank you for reminding us that sometimes we just need for the universe to “minister” to us.

    admin Reply:

    Yes. It’s so dark right now in the morning! I actually find it sort of comforting, for some reason, and I recall a similar shift occurring years ago with regard to December’s dark afternoons.

  11. Posted October 23, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Lovely, and more than that, because I know so deeply whereof you write! The world does minister to us, if we simply stop long enough to allow it. You remember to do that, and you remind the rest of us, too.

    admin Reply:

    Well, you certainly do that for me. Thank you, thank you. xoxo

  12. Posted October 23, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post.

    admin Reply:

    Thank YOU. xox

  13. Posted October 23, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    So beautiful. Every time I read one of your posts – about the grandeur and the terror – I am reminded of how precious and stunning this life is. Now, off to enjoy it. xox

    admin Reply:

    This comment made me smile when I read it, thinking of you heading off to enjoy an afternoon with your little guy. xox

  14. Leslie
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I went from the essay “Christian, Not Conservative” at The American Conservative (.com) discussing Marilynne Robinson’s influence and perspective on religion, to a Q&A at The Atlantic with neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson discussing his concept of “taking in the good”, to your blog. It is strange sometimes, the threads we follow. You mention grandeur and terror – it is a coupling I experience at times as well. In the essay, Robinson’s Gilead is quoted, “Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. . . . I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave-that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.”

    There is so much more to this, to it all, isn’t there? A bit weighty for a blog comment, I know. . .

    admin Reply:

    Oh, wow. That quote! Perfection. I read and loved Gilead but didn’t recall that passage. So wonderful. I hope it’s ok if I share it on my blog (with attribution of course!). xox

  15. Brooke
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Lindsey. I’m your reader in her 70’s. Usually read your posts in the AM, but didn’t get to read it until now after a very painful day filled with the same feelings in my heart as you described. I am just now slowly coming back to a semblance of myself. I am glad I am not alone in my sensitivity to my world. As you and others said, when the joy does come, it is so deep and nurturing. Hopefully, I will experience it soon.
    Your son is an amazing and perceptive boy.

    admin Reply:

    I am so sorry about your painful day. And so glad that my words were able to provide a small measure of solace – or at least a reminder that you’re definitely not alone. I hope that joy comes soon. xox

  16. Posted October 23, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey, it has been a long while since I caught your musings in my FB thread. And as is so often the case, I find I am both grateful and not surprised by the timing. Yes, the world does minister to us, and continually gives to a heart that is open to receive…and therein lays the magic.

    admin Reply:

    Yes. That’s where the magic is. What a perfect way to say it. Thank you. xox

  17. Posted October 23, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    “Porous” is such a unique and amazing and specific description. I read this earlier today and that word has been with me ever since.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you! It’s one of the single words that I think most aptly describes me. xox

  18. Posted October 23, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for always being honest. You are SO wise. To be able to be in the throws of frustration and sadness and to be able to pause and see such beauty and wonder.

    admin Reply:

    I don’t know about SO wise, my dear … but definitely wonder, and often beauty. xox

  19. Emily hedges
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful. I understand this experience. Thanks for writing.

    admin Reply:

    Thank YOU. I’m heartened to know that others can relate. It means a lot. xoxo

  20. Tiffany
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh goodness, I had to take a deep breath after reading your post and wait a few moments for the sheen of my tears to fade from my eyes. I have felt so similarly, as so many of us shared here. I too had a challenging day last weekend, but your words about the world ministering to you were a strong reminder for me, for the natural world has ministered to me, with its quiet power and presence, more effectively than anything else ever has. What a gift to share in that with Whit and his words to you were too. Thank you, Lindsey.

    admin Reply:

    Tiffany,
    I’m sorry about the tears! And while I’m also sorry that you had to feel the same sharp and heavy things I’m also grateful to know that someone else knows what I’m talking to. Quiet power and presence: yes, that’s what it is. Perfect words. Thank you. xox

  21. Brettne
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    “The world ministered to me” is my favorite sentence of 2013. Thank you for these painfully beautiful thoughts on joy and sorrow, which are emotions I felt very keenly this weekend as well. Xo

    admin Reply:

    I am certain that you did. I can imagine. I’ve been thinking about you. xox

  22. Tamara
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, I am so happy that you share these wonderful posts! I loved the paragraph that begins – “I am an extremely porous person..”, it also describes me so well.
    On days like these, I carry this little gem around with me , and I repeat it often to myself –
    Rest in natural great peace this exhausted mind, beaten helpless by karma and neurotic thoughts, like the relentless fury of the pounding waves in the infinite ocean of samsara.
    ~Khempo Jamyang Dorje

    until the ‘clouds part’, and I can once again feel the warmth of the sun. 🙂

  23. Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    In my darkest moments, I am most aware of the beautiful things. I feel this is the symetry of life; the balance. I feel you inhabit the far edges of symetry; that fiery, spark of a place where two things touch and sizzle. I believe that is of the hardest places to live and I applaud you for staying there.

    Walking back to the middle is so much easier. It’s a walk I’ve done a thousand times.

  24. Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    OK, love this. We must be kindred souls…Ii am also a porous person. If you ever have time, come read some work from my site or look me up at http://www.parentmap.com. I blog there too. I would love to have you as part of my blog conversation as a reader….

  25. Amy
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey, have you thought about words/labels like “porous” (I love that) vs “sensitive” vs “dramatic”? My son is on the “sensitive” side, which I thought of (negatively) as being dramatic, but if I view him as being “porous”, well, that opens up more possibilities…

  26. Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Such a beautiful post! I’m so happy we’ve connected over Instagram. I love the way you describe happiness and sadness here.