The last line of my favorite play (that happens to be a tragedy) reads,
"The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest have borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.”
It is a heavy play. And maybe that’s why I love it. There isn’t a happy ending, and the silence at the end is deafening. It speaks to the human situation, the place I find myself again and again. There is no resolution, except to say that we must say something true, rather than something comfortable. We must speak. We must tell the story. Even when it feels like there are no longer any characters or any plot line worth continuing. Even if the characters and this plot line that we loved so very much have ended.
We recognize that the story has ended far too soon. We recognize the sudden trauma of a beautiful beautiful beautiful book, being ripped in half - in quarters; the last three fourths never to be found. At least not now. At least not here.
Tonight, I became aware of how much this sadness of loss weighed on me. I realized that my bones felt heavier, like there was a deeper pull into the ground. Now I think I understand gravitas. I understand - that is, I stand under and look into the truth of - how gravity and the grave are not so different.
I think maybe for the first time in my life, I hear the last four lines of King Lear. And I hear them as a prayer. I hear them as a solemn benediction that declares fragility and futility as the reality of human life.
But tonight, I hear the lines as a prayer both full of honesty and full of hope. I hear them as a prayer and a commitment to action - that we will continue to speak, to tell these stories that have ended too soon. It is an expectation that someone will walk off that death-littered stage and declare, between sobs, that these were lives that mattered. And they were lives that mattered because life matters.
Perhaps then, grief is a declaration first and foremost that people matter.
A declaration that these lives that are stories are worth living out, are worth telling and hearing and being shared together. Tonight I wonder if death, in all its desire to take away the substance of life, instead points to the value of it. The worth of life. The marrow of life. Death addresses the very thing it seeks to destroy and ends up saying, “You, you life, you that are fearfully and wonderfully made - you are worth something so very very deep that there is not a single thing someone can do but grieve in response to your passing.”
Tonight, I found myself on a empty field. I had separated from the crowd that had been there, seeking out some solitude to collect myself and my thoughts. One by one, three dear friends who have been just as affected by this recent loss came to me and laid down beside me.
For a while, we were silent. For a while, I think all of us were wishing we were back home, back in the mountains were darkness meant stars, and stars meant worship, and worship meant peace. I found myself realizing that I was surrounded by these same three girls on the last nights of High Sierra, as we watched the meteor shower in silence and in awe from the top of Star Rock. Yes, for a moment, we were still and quiet.
And then someone said something, and another quip came, and just like that we were laughing. We were laughing uncontrollably in the middle of a deserted field, while maintenance cleaned up around us. Sometimes we were laughing at nothing, or laughing at laughter itself. My sides and jaw ached, we were all rolled into one - arms beneath heads, legs over stomachs, shoulders as pillows or props. For those few moments, those minutes, that hour - we laughed and laughed. We laughed because we knew we shouldn’t be laughing and we laughed because it was the only thing to do. We laughed because we knew that is what Nadyne would have wanted. We declared holy ground with grieving and laughing and trying to hold on to each other because the alternative wasn’t even really an option. We laughed because we were known for our laughter and if we couldn’t be home together, we could at least do what we were known for.
At some point, we got up and left that ground of worship. At some point, I found myself still again, and silent again, and writing. At some point, the heaviness returned. At some point, we stopped laughing.
But I think I’m beginning to understand now what it is like to grieve with hope and without answers. I think I’m beginning to understand what it is like to truly hold onto each other, no one person doing all the caring, no one person being only cared for.
Yvette said it made her angry that it took the loss of such a beautiful life to bring us together - and it makes me angry too. It also makes me hopeful, in a way that recognizing the gravity within.
It makes me hopeful that God is up to something, and that He truly is still in the business of redemption. Hopeful that He’s still in the business of healing. Still in the business of holding us close. Still in the business of weeping; and still in the business of honoring laughter by giving new life into a barren and seemingly hopeless situation.
Tonight, on that empty field, with three good friends - I believe I witnessed the church. Jesus was with us, I know that for sure. He was sitting at our side, maybe even cracking up with us. The Jesus I know is not solemn and serious all the time, I mean, He created the platypi, He created the joyfulness Nadyne caught sight of.
I think I’m learning that He’s the sort of God that joins us on blankets, in dreams of the stars, in courage to face the morning, in decisions to hold grief before grades. I think I’m learning that He’s a God that is okay with my sadness, my frustration, my anger, my questions, my fears that I’m never going to know why. I think He weeps with us; and I have to believe He laughs with us too - even if the reason we are laughing is because we have no more tears to cry.
And I think, I believe that Jesus - Jesus is okay with us saying what we feel, and not what we ought.
So to my friends who are grieving alongside me: Speak freely. Cry freely. Laugh freely. Live freely. Die freely. And most of all, love freely.