'Tis a Holy Thing to Love
It's been both a celebrative and difficult holiday season for my family this year. Celebration because we gathered for fun, connection, spiritual sustenance, gift giving, game playing and feasting in twos and three, fours and fives, and even one group of sixteen. From Massachusetts to Louisiana, from Virginia to Colorado.
But it is also difficult because my sister Robin lost her husband of 60 years, Wayne Wheeler, a few days before Christmas. Wayne made several miraculous, or near-miraculous, comebacks in his multi-year fight against a complex array of cardiac, pulmonary and other medical issues--I do think he liked to surprise us with those comebacks! He fought the good fight, with Robin, who is a nurse, right there beside him as his advocate and support every step of the way. But finally his body simply wore out and, in the presence of his loving family, he passed on. He will be missed. Here's a link to his obituary.
Although my sister (and various members of her family) have a "hope of heaven" to support them, it is still an almost unbearable thing to lose one who has been a friend and daily companion for most of one's life.
I'm reminded of a passage by J.R.R. Tolkien which lies tucked away in the obscurity of Appendix A at the end of The Return of the King, the final volume in his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
This section of Appendix A (Part I, Section V, for those of you who want to read more) tells the love story of Aragorn, the last of the great Númenorean kings, mighty but mortal, and immortal Arwen Evenstar, who chose to give up her immortality out of her love for Aragorn.
Aragorn, as a great king, had the ability to choose when he would die (without doing violence to himself), and chose to do so when he had lived more than twice the span of an ordinary mortal and was old, but before his body had completely declined. But Arwen could not face his going.
For all her wisdom and lineage, [Arwen] could not forbear to plead with him to stay yet for a while. She was not yet weary of her days, and thus she tasted the bitterness of the mortality that she had taken upon her.
[Aragorn responds.] "I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world."
"Not till now [she replied] have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I have scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive."
"So it seems," [said Aragorn]. "But let us not be overthrown at the final test, who of old renounced the Shadow and the Ring. In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! We are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory."
What a strange and sometimes very difficult thing it is to be a human being. And perhaps no period is more difficult than the time of grief after the death of one loved deeply and daily for so long.
When Arwen, who had a heritage and history to rival any in Middle Earth and who had lived for thousands of years, finally experienced this loss she was bowed down to the ground by her grief. But Aragorn, who was called Estel (or "Hope") in his youth, and who had lived his whole life with knowledge of his mortality, was able to see beyond it. Into hope.
"In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! We are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory."
And in keeping with that I share a poem I love and have shared before on this blog, by Yehuda HaLevi [Yeh-hoo-dah Hah-lev-ee], an 11th century Jewish poet
‘Tis a Fearful Thing
‘Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
to be, And oh, to lose. A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing, a holy thing to love.
For your life has lived in me, your laugh once lifted me, your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing, love, a holy thing, to love what death has touched.
As Aragorn said to Arwen, "There is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world." Beyond the circles of the world, where there is "more than memory," may we find comfort in our grief. And courage to live here, and to love.
Until next time,
Wayne and Robin, by daughter Wendy Wheeler
The path over the mountain, Ashim D. Silva, unSplash
Older couple, Visual Stories--Michelle, unSplash
Rose, Vitolda Klein, unSplash