a swift current of sorrow
I hold the world in the palm of my hand.
Controversy, babies, weddings, travels, lyrics, rants, politics, cupcakes, frustration, outrage, joy, relief, accomplishment . . . an endless stream of emotion.
Sometimes, the world in my hand becomes too much — scrolling, spinning out of control. Every day a new grief.
Two weeks . . . an airplane full of 239 living souls disappears in a remote sea, an apartment building explodes in Harlem, a mountainside slips and buries a hundred people 60 miles away . . .
Two weeks of nonstop mourning, punctuated by loss after loss. Of longed for babies . . . of cherished mothers . . . of beloved grandparents, including my own.
In my hand, I enter the heartaches of friends, of family, of me.
How do we process life so quickly? Can we possibly feel so fast?
Caught in a swift current, barely keeping head above, I fight my way to the shore.
Can we stop here even an hour? To rest? To grieve? To pray?
How? How do we do this knowing? How do we feel the floods of sadness without drowning?
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I am a feeler. I know this. Sometimes, I can barely stay afloat. If you cling to me too hard, we’ll both go down.
I want to hide in bed, pull covers over and stay . . . to submerge sorrow in television, in laughter, in nothingness. To give my eyes a rest, my head, my heart. Tomorrow morning, I will wake up and the world will be different. (Ah, but tomorrow has enough trouble of its own.)
I am exhausted from swimming in and out of the current. I long for a boat of bliss, to float above grief, to get out of the river. Lord, help me back into the boat before I drown.
“We can’t absorb it all. We know too much, too quickly, and one of the worst effects of this avalanche of technology is the loss of compassion.” — Madeleine L’Engle, 1970
The only solace I know, the only way to keep my body in and my head above is a promise. And I cling to it for life.
Surely he has borne our sorrows, surely he has carried our grief . . . *
* * * * *
Some evenings, when I’ve used all the compassionate words I have to plead donations to help heal the hurts of a broken world, I have nothing left. I am hollow. And the most I can do for the ache of the world in my hand, is to turn it off and attend to what’s in front of me. To let the work of my hands, not my troubled mind, minister to my heart.
It’s an unusual afternoon . . . I walk in the door and the house is napping. So, I set to work, and I don’t mind doing the neglected chores. I tidy in silence, picking up scattered clothes and thanking God there is someone here to scatter them. I sip a glass quietly. I pray as I empty last night’s dishes and load the day’s mess. I cook a meal and set a table without a word, and I remember my grandmother’s voice announcing it was “time to take up the food” which meant to put it in serving dishes.
For a few minutes, a counter top is clean, a floor swept, laundry folded. Time and tide have stopped. And I have solitude and order.
I let tears fall again.
Here, in this quiet place, can we sit? Can we be still? Hush the words, the images, the world?
I cry out that my heart is full, is overwhelmed, is drowning. I cry for my family. For the losses of dear friends, of acquaintances, of strangers. For families whose loves are not buried in a cemetery in graves covered with flowers, but in the ocean, under a mountain.
And I feel Jesus’ mercy for this world, for all of us. For all the grief of all time carried on His back in one moment. I feel the gentleness of the One who knew my days before there was one of them, who gathers my tears in a bottle, who wept over the grief of His friends.
And in the cloister of my kitchen, He whispers that He understands. Because He feels it, too. And He holds out His hands to show me.
See? I have engraved you on the palms of my hands . . . **
* * * * *
His thoughts said, Before me continually is the grief of wounds, confusion, suspense, distress.
His Father said, Behold there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock.
Then, as a frightened child on a storm-swept mountain-side would gratefully take his father’s hand, and stand on a rock in a place by him, fearing no evil – so it was with the son. For he knew that though the earth be removed and the waters be carried into the midst of the sea, that rock by his Father would never be moved. And he remembered words about things that can be shaken and things that will remain. And though no small tempest lay on him, he said to the multitude of thoughts whose voices sought to disturb him, Sirs, be of good cheer; for I believe God that it shall be even as it was told me. For as His majesty is, so also is His mercy.
–His Thoughts Said…His Father Said…, Amy Carmichael
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** Isaiah 49:16
Photo Credit: Jack Delano, photographer, 1941. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [LC-DIG-fsa-8a3564]