“When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.”
Dao De Jing: Chapter 2
Ever been more than half way through an arduous hike when it starts to rain? At first, as the rain comes down harder, you try to figure out what to do to rescue the situation, but you’ve come too far to turn around, and there’s nowhere to take shelter. The only thing to do is keep going. If you haven’t got grape-sized blisters or a sprained ankle, there can come a moment when you let go of your resistance and just walk. You can’t get any wetter or more dirty, and the simple act of continuing to put one foot in front of the other will, eventually, get you to a place where there’s a hot tub, a martini, a stake and a fudge Sunday, or simply a warm, dry place to rest. There’s an odd sort of satisfaction in letting go of attempts to make the situation better. Having resigned yourself and let go, it somehow becomes simple (though not easy) to move through it. If you’re very lucky, you have a good companion or 3 to share the experience, thereby lightening its burden.
Solitude on such a hike is hard. No one can trudge through the mud for you, and there may be times when you’re silent, but what simple solace there is in agreeing aloud on the obvious: “Rain sure is wet,” or “Wet dirt is really slippery,” or Oh look, I’ve slid, and I’m lying full length in the mud,” and getting a hand up. And later, when you’re remembering that long, dirty wet trek through the rain, how much more gratifying it is to be able to say to someone, “Do you remember how…,” or “How about when…,” and how painful it can be when there’s no one who can remember those things with you.
And getting warm and dry can take a long time. Maybe you’ve got a lot of hair and no towel, or no dry clothes to change into. You may think you’re warm and dry at last, but an unexpected random draft can set you shivering again. Sometimes all you can do is curl up, with a warm companion if you’re lucky, and hope that the drafts stop coming, or that you get warm enough to endure them. Until that happens, it’s hard to enjoy things, or to feel like you’re really part of the world around you, or to relate to people the way you normally do.
A hot tub, a martini, a stake and a fudge Sunday, or just a warm dry place to rest:
Paul McCartney: Mull of Kintire
This song was always a favourite of my mother’s, long before she died at 65 of a broken heart. It evokes an instant nostalgia for lost things. She always loved to hear me sing it, and anyone of my siblings instantly thinks of her when we hear it.
Bruce Cockburn: Let Us Go Laughing
The Earth is beautiful, and so much bigger and more timeless than us and our grief. In the face of it, we may only observe, be awed and grateful, and turn to one another for comfort, wisdom and laughter in the face of everything.
Supertramp: Lord is it Mine
This song and I go back a long way, to when my frightened 14 year old self, confronted by death for the first time, found it cathartic.
Offspring: End of the Line
Unlike the others, this song is actually about grief. I like its raw desperation, the naked pain, the pleading for things not to be as they are. In a radio interview, I heard the band members firmly decline to identify who it was written about, which heightened its sincerity for me.
Bare Naked Ladies: When You Dream
This song, among other brilliant themes, evokes for me that aspect of grief which is concerned with the sadness for what is no longer possible: unknown potential swept away. What’s left in its place may be wonderful, but what’s lost will never be known. The lyrics are beautiful and literate, but the gentle, discordant background adds unmistakable ambivalence.