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The Many Faces of Grief: D

Death, Discrimination, Despair

On Death:

‘Tis a fearful thing

to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing

to love, to hope, to dream, to be –

to be,

And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

And a holy thing,

a holy thing

to love.

For your life has lived in me,

your laugh once lifted me,

your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love,

a holy thing, to love

what death has touched.”

~ Yehuda HaLevi

There is death in life, and it astonishes me that we pretend to ignore this: death, whose unforgiving presence we experience with each change we survive because we must learn to die slowly. We must learn to die: That is all of life.

To prepare gradually the masterpiece of a proud and supreme death, of a death where chance plays no part, of a well-made, beatific and enthusiastic death of the kind the saints knew to shape. Of a long-ripened death that effaces its hateful name and is nothing but a gesture that returns those laws to the anonymous universe which have been recognized and rescued over the course of an intensely accomplished life.

It is this idea of death, which has developed inside of me since childhood from one painful experience to the next and which compels me to humbly endure the small death so that I may become worthy of the one which wants us to be great.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

There is no map for the landscape of loss, no established itinerary, no cosmic checklist, where each item ticked off gets you closer to success. You cannot succeed in mourning your loved ones. You cannot fail. Nor is grief a malady, like the flu. You will not get over it. You will only come to integrate your loss. The death of a beloved is an amputation. You find a new center of gravity, but the limb does not grow back.

~ Mirabai Starr

Love is the seed of our healing.

Step out with love

Take it back and give it again, and again, and again.

This is the seed of coming back into wholeness.

The love you gave is not lost.

The beloved has returned it to you for your healing.

It now needs new form.

Remember: love has no expiration date, and it is infinitely recyclable.

Take the love you gave to the beloved and give it everywhere, give it away.

For in the giving, you are healed.

~ Deborah Morris Coryell

On Discrimination:

What is it, exactly? “The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.”

Many people in the United States are celebrating Juneteenth today; some are noting it, others are honoring it. Most people are just ignoring it. It wasn’t considered a federal holiday until 2021, but I have to say, “we’ve come a long way, baby”. We’re beginning to expand our view of history while the nation continues to grapple with race relations. In fact, it was 40 years ago this week that Vincent Chen, a Chinese American was beaten to death in a racial hate crime in Detroit. We are a grieving world, fearful of “the other”.

Let’s look at our own grief when it comes to discrimination. Scientists are telling us that we all carry ancestral grief in our DNA. When you look back at your ancestral line, what varieties of discrimination do you find? My family has a significant burden of religious persecution, generation after generation. Most of us live in a bubble of our own making and choosing, a bubble that lacks awareness and is maintained by ignorance – that’s to say that we largely “ignore” what’s right in front of us.

I had my own happy bubble once upon a time; discrimination, like grief, wouldn’t have dared to cross my hearth. Indeed, I came late to the table. Already a grandmother, I was finally able to carve out some time and space to go back to college and complete my degree. I was a literature major and joyfully sank my teeth into Gender Studies and Black Literature – pretty rich, juicy stuff for a grandma!

The advantage of being a “non-traditional student” is that you’ve gained some maturity, wisdom and experience, and you’re in school for the love of learning. These authors absolutely rocked my little world! For the first time in my life, I met the early writers who spoke as women, for and in behalf of women: Mary Wollstonecraft, Edith Wharton, Phyllis Wheatley, Willa Cather, Kate Chopin, and Lorraine Hansberry Oh, man, I was blown away!

The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth. ~ Kate Chopin

Even as a child she had lived her own small life within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life - that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions. ~ Kate Chopin

The Black authors that I met for the first time were Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Richard Wright, and Alex Haley. These Black authors cracked open my world!

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” ~James Baldwin

"Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another,"

Toni Morrison wrote in her novel 'Beloved'.

I felt newly-born in this amazing world of literature, especially that which dealt with discrimination and the endless grief that it creates in the human condition. My eyes were opened! And I’m here to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a late-bloomer! My compassion grew by leaps and bounds.

Surely, we all agree that we live in a world of division and separation. When it comes to discrimination, have we made any headway at all? I wonder. Could it be that we are on the cusp of a great awakening? That there is increased movement toward unity consciousness in this time of upheaval? Where are we collectively? Where are we as individuals as we watch the unfoldings of the January 6th Hearings?

As we inquire and probe deeply into the nature of our conditioned minds, we may be shocked at what we find moldering there: all kinds of duality! I’m highly recommending that if you want to further investigate your own discriminatory beliefs and patterns, you might want to read The Marriage of Spirit, by Leslie Temple-Thurston.

Be brave, Dear Reader; you may be shocked by what you learn about yourself! As the author points out, many traditions and religions throughout history have emphasized the principle of the unification of opposites: the Chinese yin-yang symbol, Tantra, the Bhagavad Gita, The Middle Path in Buddhism, Sufism, the Kabbalah, and even the Gospel According to Thomas, found in Egypt in 1945. There’s nothing new about unity consciousness! It’s just rare – very rare. That’s the problem now.

The Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan stated, “Mental purification means that impressions such as good and bad, wrong and right, gain and loss, and pleasure and pain, these opposites which block the mind, must be cleared out by seeing the opposite of these things. Then one can see the enemy in the friend and the friend in the enemy. When one can recognize poison in nectar and nectar in the poison, that is the time when death and life become one. Opposites no more remain opposites before one.”

This is counter-intuitive and very beautiful. I want to invite you to something simpler, more do-able, more user-friendly. It’s not about solving the problem of discrimination; no, it’s about rising above it and feeling better about the world we live in. Give it a try: step out of your comfort zone and reach out to “the other”. Someone on the opposite side of the fence. Someone who looks different. Someone you may fear. Leave your fingerprints on the wall that separates you because of a polarity that you’re holding.

I was blessed to teach on the Navajo Reservation where I was immediately labeled “belegana” – another white woman stepping into their world. Somebody called this “reverse discrimination”. Isn’t that WEIRD? I grieved. Deeply. That I couldn’t reach those children. For three long months, they wouldn’t let me in. But a miracle occurred over time – they finally accepted me. We fell in love with one another. And I received a healing blessing from a Navajo medicine man. And found a forever-friend in my teaching assistant.

I was blessed to teach for a semester in an exchange-student contract in Far Eastern Russia, where the students had never had the opportunity to have an American English teacher. My colleagues fell over themselves to care for and entertain me and introduce me to their culture and traditions. I had been raised to fear all things Russian, and here I was, in a World War II helicopter flying over the volcanoes and geysers, shooting pistols, soaking in natural hot springs, and having a picnic on the hood of their “jeep” in Kamchatka, “The Land of Fire and Ice”. And wouldn’t you know it, we fell in love with one another.

I could go on and on, but the point here is to indeed, find a friend, a dear and precious soul, in whom you had expected to meet “the enemy”. We can’t stop discrimination, but we can be more aware, more responsible for what we create and how our own small lives contribute to the well-being of many “others”. We can take a bite out of this devastating grief that grips our planet. Will you join me – please find that deep well within yourself that transmutes grief into joy and discrimination into unity.

On Despair:

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

~ Wendell Berry

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