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.
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.
So just fragments here … words that have found me and images captured as we make a way.
The source of wisdom is whatever is happening to us right at this instant.Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 144.
“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.
I flow, I am; or at least I try to be—try to find a way toward meaning at this crossroads…
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.
Welcoming MSU students back to campus.