“When you love, the world becomes larger.” – Eric Fromm
Some try to placate her by wearing traditional black and whispering kind condolences. Others attempt 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.
It’s been several months since Grief last claimed her place on my own couch, but she’s never far away. She leaves her scent on the carcass of a pregnant deer left by the side of the highway and in the downy feathers of an albatross chick unknowingly fed shards of 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 zip past thoughts and prayers and with the Iñupiat as they watch their island slowly merge with the Chukchi Sea.
And I know that she will again be with me. She’ll push her way through my door with her overstuffed duffel and fling her DVDs of nuclear holocaust and squealing babies on my couch. She’ll offer me ghost peppers and cayenne-spiced popcorn and recommend yoga on mats embedded with sewing needles. And then she’ll pull out her knock-off Stradivarius and play Samuel Barber’s heart-wrenching Adagio for Strings until every neighborhood jay perfectly mimics its notes. But this time I’ll be patient with her. She’s earned her place in my family, and I’ve listened to her long enough to hear the beauty of her strings.
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 have to be grateful for on this tiny blue planet called Earth, and of all that we stand to lose when we trade empathy for 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 it 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