IN JANUARY, I posted an article called REFLECTING 17: THE BIG EVENT. True to its title, it looked back on the events of 2017, or at least one of them, an event that eclipsed all other events, the birth of my grandson, Killian David, born August 17, 2017 at 10:17 AM. It was the big event for our little world, particularly sweet after the loss of my mother in 2016. Words not only came easy, they were effervescent, translucent, warm in my hands.
Following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, once again I was moved to words, but, unfortunately, did not have them. I was moved to speech, certainly, to say something, anything, but I found words difficult, stubborn, at least shy, as if stuck in my throat. An entire nation was moved. Another 17 to reflect, I chose not to exploit it however fond I was of the number.
What I think we all observed was this: In the face of wordless tragedy, we found the threads that unite us, that force us to feel together what we all felt—the outrage, the loss, the grief, a parent's horror, the wound that was not singular but common, that bound us all, that revealed something profoundly human about us, if not beautiful in its way. This gives me hope (profoundly present tense).
After suffering something monstrous, finding words is not easy, nor is it always necessary or right that we do. Years ago I wrote a song called NO LANGUAGE BUT A CRY (a line I pilfered from Thomas Wolfe's OF TIME AND THE RIVER, a book I can't recommend enough for its lyricism, for its gaze into the human heart, how language in the care of genius can meddle with you with such precision). The poster for the recording was a picture of me standing on top of Mt. Yonah [North Georgia], looking over the Blue Ridge Mountains deep in the afternoon, the lyric below giving it context.
O to recall with tears those things forgotten
Ghosts that remain, a hunger that survives
A nameless ache that haunts the memory
For these things there is no language but a cry...
Writing about grief, like writing about politics or religion, can get sticky. I am not sure why this is true other than how deeply personal it is. Grief is messy. We have all heard that preached. It is also necessary. It is part of being human, why we have the emotional engines we have been assigned.
At a large gathering years ago where I was to speak and perform, having just lost my father, not even wanting to be there, a lady came up to me, knowing I suffered, and told me her husband just died, that she did not grieve at all, nor was she planning to, suggesting, as well, that I should not grieve, that grief was a type of unbelief. Under the spell of this teaching, she approached me with a kind of bounce. I was gracious, of course, gave her the moment, but I could not help but feel pity for her, as well as something I could not explain. Not only that, she tried to take something from me. I earned the grief I felt at the loss of my father. It was mine, singular, nuanced. It was filled out with my shapes, my forms. It possessed me as much as I possessed it. Writing this even now, I pause occasionally to clear the obstruction from my eyes.
After my father died (January, 2001), I was sick at heart. It all flushed to the surface, at times merciless. I didn't feel like reading a book, listening to a sermon, and the typical Hallmark card, well-meaning as I'm sure they are, did nothing for me. Like our blue Luther [MEDICINE FOR A BLUE LUTHER], I needed medication beyond my usual reach. Because I could find nothing satisfactory in the market place, I created my own. Necessity is a real mother. Like Luther, there was self-medication in the act, certainly, but a necessary one. Whether the result was any good or not didn't matter. It quieted me, the dark hum, and brought me peace.
Whether it be the grief of loss—husband, wife, child, friend, loved one, or someone else's child—whether it be divorce, or any of the deep tremors that undo us so thoroughly, we do what we must, where love and instinct choose to lead. For me, at the time of my father's death, I created an entire recording, IN THE MOURNING, which, in its way, led to the publication of my first book, TO LOVE IS CHRIST. The epigraph reads:
For those who remain, those fortunate enough in this life to have loved enough to hurt for it.
—IN THE MOURNING
The following selection is called CREDO FOR THOSE WHO GRIEVE. For the writer, for the creator, this text suggests the necessity of art, how bound we are to it, how it can sustain us in impossible times. For the rest of us, and most particularly for the family and friends of the Parkland 17 who were stolen from us, this is for you, yours alone.
Note: At first, I left the script off both the video and the body of this post, that you might lean in. Thanks to so many requests, we posted the script below. See also IN THE MOURNING [audio downloads].
CREDO FOR THOSE WHO GRIEVE
That I may I come to understand this pain I now feel is the price willingly paid for the love that was asked of me.
That my sorrow is pure, and that my grief is a sacred exchange, a thing known between me and my own soul, an inevitable and necessary thing, private and protected.
That closure is a myth, that love is forever, unforgetting, stronger than death, or memory, ceaseless, true to itself, therefore never failing, always returning a greater gain on investments made, no matter how small the giving.
That I have earned this moment. I will not shrink from it. It is mine. A return on an investment made over time. If I would know love, I would know its dark and benevolent side. And I would know the limits and power of my love known to me in this sorrow.
That love alone is the strength for this journey, this awkward, unplanned, unannounced, and untimely pilgrimage.
That I may feel what I feel, that it is acceptable and right.
That the limits of my humanness will be tested.
That I may fall under the weight of this sorrow for I am faint with love. But love would not leave me to the mercy of despair for it cannot, for being true to itself it always, protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
And I may trust love in the mystery of this present madness and grief, that something is won to the heart in sorrow, something wonderful born in the dark heart of love, in the hidden exchange.
That grief would have its complete work in me, not to despair but to the awakening of love on behalf of the one now absent, that has purchased for me new eyes to see, new hands to touch, a new heart exchanged for the one now taken, a new world on which I am planted, that I am reborn in love.
That I may look into the face of this sorrow and come to understand by a knowledge that was before now was unavailable to me, that the inevitable wheel has turned once again, that this grief, this unceasing ache within my soul is love’s benediction, love’s unveiling of itself in its finished and ongoing work.
And that I do not have to be afraid even if I do not understand, for love is stronger than my unbelief, more prevailing than my anger, wiser than my doubting, more cunning than my illusions, more determined and more resolved than my despair.