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On Tuesday morning when I made my way to the sacred circle, past the resilient tree, to Linton Hall there was a silence such as I had never heard before. It was not the silence of a holiday break or of freshly fallen snow … it was the silence of a broken world. It was the presence of an absence—Arielle, Alexandria, Brian. It was the sound of grief and loss and emptiness.

It took my breath away.

The "resilient tree" was damaged in a storm in July 2016. All but the back side of the tree, from this angle, has fallen and been cleared away. We see the cut stump and then the remainder of the tree rises up behind with marcescent (withering but persistent) leaves. The body of the tree is exposed and you can see the exposed interior as the morning sun hits the tree. In the background is Beaumont Tower, to the left, the red bricks of the MSU Museum.
The Resilient Tree, February 14, 2023.

So I paused to find a way back to my breath, to settle there and listen, to bring my heart and mind close to absence and to quietude, so I might begin to mourn and grieve.

“Breath is a practice of presence.”

Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Undrowned, 21.

Let me resist the urge to make sense of what makes no sense. What is given us to learn, perhaps, is absence—the withdrawal of being.

Let me be present to this absence here, so I might find a way to be present for others.

A Gift Appears

A gift appears from my friend and colleague Ruth Nicole Brown, Chair of the Department of African American and African Studies: A poem by Howard Thurman. It points a way and I follow.

For a Time of Sorrow
I share with you the agony of your grief,
   The anguish of your heart finds echo in my own.
   I know I cannot enter all you feel
   Nor bear with you the burden of your pain; 
I can but offer what my love does give:
   The strength of caring,
   The warmth of one who seeks to understand
   The silent storm-swept barrenness of so great a loss.
This I do in quiet ways,
   That on your lonely path
   You may not walk alone.

In the “silent storm-swept barreness of so great a loss” there are no words … and yet here the words find me, press me to find more words, not so much as to make sense, but so we might find a way more deeply into the absence and to the connections that somehow make it bearable.

We are among a large crowd of people walking along the Red Cedar River trail toward the Rock on the MSU campus. The crowd extends off to the right along the river, as far into the distance. They are gathered for the Unity Walk to the vigil for the shootings on the MSU campus that occurred on Monday, February 13, 2023. People are in winter clothing and the trees are without leaves. A woman in a green and white MSU hat is in the foreground.


So just fragments here … words that have found me and images captured as we make a way.

A corner of the black granite pedestal of the Spartan Statue has five pennies with purple tulips slumping over the edge to the left. There are blue and green card stock with the words World ... broken ... HOPE legible on it.
Tulips and Five Pennies on the pedestal of the Spartan Statue, February 17, 2023.

The source of wisdom is whatever is happening to us right at this instant.

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 144.
A close-up of the MSU Rock painted black with white letters that read: "To those we have lost, to those who now heal, we stand Spartan strong." There are eight candles painted along the bottom of the rock and three crosses are standing to the left of the rock to signify the students Alexandria Verner, Brian Fraser, and Arielle Anderson, who lost their lives on the MSU campus on Monday, February 13, 2023.
The MSU community gathers for a vigil on February 15, 2023.

“This Uncontainable Night”

Another gift finds me, this one from my friend and colleague Tani Hartman, Chair of the Department of Art, Art History, and Design— a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke: “II, 29” [“Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower”]:

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

The Spartan Stature stands tall with flowers on its pedestal and on the platform at its base in honor of Alexandria Verner, Arielle Anderson, and Brian Fraser who died on February 13, 2023. There is a menorah in the background on the left.
The Spartan Statue with flowers to honor Alexandria Verner, Arielle Anderson, and Brian Fraser on February 17, 2023.

I flow, I am; or at least I try to be—try to find a way toward meaning at this crossroads…

The Spartan Rock, painted white, with a green Spartan helmet, on the left and "Always a Spartan" painted on the front. The names of Brian Fraser, Arielle Anderson, and Alexandria Verner, are written in green letters along the bottom. In front of the rock are piles of flowers and a green and white Spartans Will flag laying on mulch front and center of the image. There are three crosses with hearts and fish symbols to the right of the rock.
The MSU Rock, February 17, 2023.

MSU Shadows

MSU, we love thy shadows
When twilight silence falls.
Flushing deep, and softly paling
O’er ivy covered halls.

Beneath the pines we’ll gather
To give our faith so true.
Sing our love for alma mater
And thy praises MSU.

A large cluster of pine trees rise up tall from a snow covered hillside. The image is taken from the perspective of the ground level looking up through the trees with the setting sunlight from behind the photographer playing among the trunks of the trees.
Beneath the pines we’ll gather.

Spartan Sunday

Welcoming MSU students back to campus.

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