Below is an old indigenous story I know. It expresses something fundamental. I open with this story because I have lost my moorings, and I want my sense of balance back.
Once all the creatures in the world gathered in a great council to clarify the jobs they each perform in the service of Creation. One by one they step forward. The beaver is here to look after the wetlands and to monitor how the streams flow. The worm is here to burrow through the earth so that the roots of plants may find air and nutrients. The deer is here to slip through the woodlands, to watch what is happening.
The council is progressing well — but one poor creature stands away from the fire, in the shadows, uncertain of its role. This is the human. At last this being steps forward and haltingly addresses the assembly “We are confused. What is the purpose of human beings?” The animals and the plants, the insects and the trees — all are surprised. They laugh, but then the laughter gives way to stunned silence. ”Don’t you know? It’s so obvious!!” “No,” replied the human, “we need you to tell us.” And the other creatures of the world all responded, “Your purpose is to glory in it all. Your job is to praise Creation.”
I don’t seem to be praise worthy. I am too often preoccupied with my own little worries. I miss the big picture, the reason for my life, because I am elsewhere, living like my life is more important than what is going on around me. I even worry about worrying too much. For good reason it turns out. Life goes on, and I seem to be limping along behind, whining about things not being what I want them to be.
Fortunately, Nature has provided a corrective, not one I like a lot. I’m coming to know this difficulty better, and to respect it a whole lot more. This is grief. There seems to be a relationship between grief and praise. I am learning about this relationship in a somewhat natural way. I am finding that I am experiencing more loss, thus more grief, as I am coming back to life.
I am losing everything and everybody. I have had a few friends die. I know I will have some more. I’ve lost lovers, loved ones, homes, jobs, even my own capabilities. Each of these losses has hurt, sent me spinning, and made me wonder about this thing called Life. And, if I am honest, each has made me a little more grateful for what remains. I don’t like hurting because of these losses. I don’t like knowing that they will continue. But, as the losses mount, I am noticing, each of them pushes me a little further in the direction of really appreciating what is here.
As I grieve the losses I am taking, I am growing my appreciation for the miraculousness of Life. I like this development. I’m just not sure I like the price I’m paying for it.
Grief is opening me up to the real cost of life. The impermanence of everything, the fleeting moment, the embrace that always ends, these are the things I live for, cannot hold, and that make me grateful for my existence. What always evades me, meaning what ultimately passes beyond me, is what I value the most.
I’m learning that losses invigorate my appreciation for life. What I cannot preserve, I value. When I expose myself to loss I am dragged into a whirlwind of pain that paradoxically enlivens me, and opens my eyes to the incredibly beautiful transience of life. Suddenly loss becomes gain. I am thrust into a landscape that breaks my heart, and simultaneously introduces to the delicate persistence of life.
Lately this has taken the form of letting in a painful reality. If I want real contact, to feel palpably connected, I rely upon others. It grieves me that others are so preoccupied with their own lives. There is nothing wrong. I am just lonelier than I want to be. Because I feel this pain and loss, because I can admit this grief, I am more available for the brief moment of real contact that does come. I am more prepared when I don’t maintain that something is wrong and I grieve what is. I get to feel more connected because I accept being less connected.
Grief at what passes, or is true, or is what I cannot change, makes me appreciate so much more. Feeling my grief, all that I lose, is what frees me to fully praise this existence. It doesn’t matter if I think life is imperfect, if I feel that it asks too much of me, because no matter what, I am being exposed to a waterfall of constantly changing sensations that, because of my losses, take on a hue of poignancy and wonder. Grief gives rise to praise, not because I am just right, but because life is.
Knowing this, having it deep in my experiential bones, is my balance point. Balance may move around, may be very shaky, will be dynamic, because I now grasp, that too have balance, I have to lose balance.
Sandy Rain says
Thank you for this. One year ago both of my parents died- one was expected, the other a month before unexpectedly.
I am in my 30’s, divorced, in financial trouble… single mom, then that happened.
Funny thing is that I have found myself Praising (God) more since it happened. I sing and cry in church, in my car… and I seem to always be giving gratitude.
Most would be angry… but since they passed, my life has started to come together. No direct correlation, and I miss them with my entirety…. but somehow I appreciate things more, and my blessings have become more abundant- or maybe I just recognize them more.
Either way- I have been trying to verbalize what you just wrote in this article. So Thank you.
Praise and Grief do go hand in hand. When we experience great loss, we realize that we are not immortal, and are more sensitive to what this life is trying to whisper to us, if we will quiet down and listen. 🙂
Jennifer Berg says
I find praise today! Out of the grief from the news that my father’s bone cancer has advanced and his decision to travel West to NM, a place that he loves so very much, instead of coming to visit me.
I resorted to old feelings of abandonment and self pity…Then low-and-behold, I receive the gift of this article. From the depths of my grieve I rose to recollections of my father’s undying, adventurous nature – he has sailed the seas, far and wide, and explored cultures around the world. I rose to remembrances of my father’s desire to expose his children to nature and to experiences of horse back riding, camping,and hiking railroad tracks. He would encourage us to play in the rain and look up to the wonder of our galaxy and to use our imagination to make pictures from clouds. I have been given his gift of love of nature, being able to pause at every opportunity to witness the beauty of this season flourishing in my own yard. Each new wild flower, the nesting of turtles and birds, the beautiful Skink Lizards, and even the squirrels in their endeavors to take their portion of bird seed and hang up-side-down while doing so! Today I praise my father as I see my own son coming to me out of excitement to show me what he is witnessing in nature – running in the house, eyes wide, hurrying me to see what wonderful creature he has found or his ability to capture a picture of the moon or comment on a beautiful sunset or, to ask me to play our game of finding pictures in the clouds… Thank you Dad and Thank you Mr. Goff for reminding me to find praise from grief.
susan troccolo says
I appreciated the depth of your exploration. In my experience with cancer, I find that some folks get a lot out of going down into the depths of these challenges and others, no. I call those people the “Be like you were and PRONTO people.” They don’t care for introspection. They don’t like it when you change because it might mean that they might have to change. God forbid. Thank you for providing more to think about today, more to appreciate, more to learn from. It all feeds into the gratitude I feel for this life.
Cornelis J van Dijk says
You get borne, you have no influence on that event, you live, hopefully useful, and then you cease to exist. Because I live, my granddaughter kisses me when I bring her to school, what more would I want? Do not make more out of living and dying.
Thank you for articulating this paradox so thoughtfully, David, and for making the choice for praise. Bitterness and complaining are also options, but they miss the blessing and the choice to praise uplifts you and all around you.
Judy K says
the more difficult that it is for me to fully grasp what you are stating, the more that I ponder and finally gain from your thoughts. thank you for continuing to pull me along; widening my horizons and expanding my thought processes.