Everything is the same, and everything is different. As every year, the multitudes of people who have died in the military deserve, at the very least, our gratitude, our honor and our remembrance. But this time, our thoughts expand to those who have died from Covid-19, and to those who have fought valiantly to try to save them.
This will be a short post today, because I simply need the time and the space to find my way through holding profound grief alongside gratitude and joy. That’s the challenge of all life, isn’t it? Dealing with the juxtaposition of coffins and carousels, untimely deaths and daffodils. Finding a way to hold those contradictory emotions in our hearts, respectfully and fully, requires attention and intention both.
Sometimes I think that we pet lovers have to practice this on a daily basis. Many of our best friends (I do not mean that metaphorically, I mean it literally) will be with us for painfully short periods of time. Eight years? Ten years? Fifteen years? We are aware of that every moment; that our time with these astounding animals will be but a tiny segment of our own life span (if we are lucky). They will die, and it will break our hearts. I look at Maggie and think “Good god, how can she be seven years old already”? Tootsie, at the ancient age of 16 +, will die before a member of a human family reaches adult hood. But we hurt ourselves and them too if we let that darken the joy that they bring us.
Narayan Helen Liebenson, in The Magnanimous Heart, recounts the words: “I am of the nature to age. I am of the nature to get ill. I am of the nature to die. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.” One might think of this as a dismal recounting of loss and sorrow, but many, including me, find it deeply comforting to be reminded that we are not in this alone; that we are all in this together, that change is inevitable, as is grief.
But so is joy and gratitude. Pam Houston, in one of my favorite books of all time, Deep Creek, writes about a trip that included watching polar bears on icebergs. She says: “I was face-to-face with my familiar koan: how to be with the incandescent beauty of the iceberg without grieving the loss of polar bear habitat its appearance implied. How to grieve the polar bear without loving it any less. . . How to hang on to that full-body joy I knew I was capable of and still understand it as elegy.”
That is our challenge today. To honor those who have died, to grieve for them as they deserve, and to savor the beauty that they provided the world, remembering that it is all around us.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: About to make a rhubarb, strawberry pie. Work in the garden. Do Skip’s exercises. Trim Tootsie’s nails. Enjoy the flowers. Grieve for the departed. And every hour on the hour, I will thank those who have put their lives on the line to save victims of Covid.
Poppies; another appropriate flower for Memorial Day:
And one of my favorites, a Jill in the Pulpit. (These plants begin as male (Jacks) and become female once they have the resources to reproduce. As it should be.)
The lowly dandelion deserves some credit for being a kick ass competitor. Time for it to get its due.
May your day today, and your upcoming week, hold all the joy and, yes, the grief, that comes with being human.