Van Gogh


“When you love, the world becomes larger.”  – Eric Fromm

Some try to placate her by wearing traditional black and whispering kind condolences. Others employ bribery, offering her cold noodle casseroles, quivering jello and meringue pies shaped like the Dakota Badlands. The orderly even adopt rules, demanding that she depart after thirty days, six months or a year.  But Grief ignores traditions, bribes and orders, and if she ever played poker, she would cheat.

When I first met Grief she was an unwelcome stranger.  But she’s become my adopted, even if eccentric, sister.   She pushes her way through my door with her overstuffed duffel and tosses me DVDs of nuclear holocaust and wailing babies.  She offers me ghost peppers and cayenne-spiced popcorn and recommends yoga on mats embedded with sewing needles.  And then she pulls out her knock-off Stradivarius and plays Samuel Barber’s  Adagio for Strings until every neighborhood jay can perfectly mimic its mournful notes.

It’s been months since she last claimed her place on my own couch, but Grief never lets me forget her.  She leaves her scent on the carcass of a pregnant deer left by the side of the highway and in the soft downy feathers of an albatross chick unknowingly fed sharp plastic by its mother.  She carves her name in the charred trunks of once towering firs in Paradise, California and leaves her tears in a vase at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  She’s in Syrian refugee camps, in schools where bullets speed through thoughts and prayers and with the Iñupiat as they watch their island slowly merge with the Chukchi Sea.  

But Grief, like no other, can strip away the trivial, the mundane and the socially acceptable until nothing remains but the raw and powerful truth of love.  She reminds me of all that we share on this tiny blue planet called Earth and of all that we are in danger of losing when we replace empathy with indifference, malignant egotism and brutal forms of tribalism.  She reminds me that there is only one true remedy for love. And that, to quote Thoreau, is to love more.

And so I begin this blog, For Love of Earth, and dedicate to my friend and former professor Harald Alexander Becker.  He was a brilliant, funny and compassionate man who devoted his life to his students.  And on the day that he died Grief was waiting for us, suitcase in hand, in her swirling cloud of shattered glass.

Cover painting by Vincent Van Gogh