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Consoling Broken Hearts

Isadora Duncan, Photo Credit: Arnold Genthe, 1917

In the last weeks much has happened in America that deeply wounds the heart of all of us. Even if we are distant from the terror attacks at Newtown and the Boston Marathon, from the massive explosions at West, Texas, we feel the pain of the innocent, the victims. Before there is acceptance, before there is forgiveness, there is grieving. I came across this essay from Isadora Duncan from her memoir, My Life, that speaks of inconsolable loss and what we may say or do that offers genuine companionship and solace to those grieving. Duncan lost both of her children in an accident when a taxicab in which they were riding drove off into the water and they were drowned. She then fled to her friend, Eleanora Duse, and stayed with her in Italy.


The next morning I drove out to see Duse, who was living in a rose-coloured vila behind a vineyard. She came down a vine covered walk to meet me, like a glorious angel. She took me in her arms and her wonderful eyes beamed upon me such love and tenderness that I felt just as Dante must have felt when, in the "Paradiso," he encounters the Divine Beatrice.

From then on I lived at Viareggio, finding courage from the radiance of Eleanora's eyes. She used to rock me n her arms, consoling my pain, but not only consoling, for she seemed to take my sorrow to her own breast, and I realized that I had not been able to bear thew society of other people, it was because they all played the comedy of trying to cheer me with forgetfulness. Whereas Eleanora said:

"Tell me about Deirdre and Patrick," and made me repeat to her all their little sayings and ways, and show her their photos, which she kissed and cried over. She never said, "Cease to grieve," but she grieved with me, and, for the first time since their death, I felt I was not alone.

- Isadora Duncan, 1878-1927
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Just Pushing

For deLawd

people say they have a hard time
understanding how I
go on about my business
playing my Ray Charles
hollering at the kids -
seems like my Afro
cut off in some old image
would show I got a long memory
and I come from a line
of black and going on women
who got used to making it through murdered sons
and who grief kept on pushing
who fried chicken
swept off the back steps
who grief kept
for their still alive sons
for their sons coming
for their sons gone
just pushing

- Lucille Clifton

Today, the haunting notes of YoYo Ma on the cello plays in elegy, the faces and pure voices of the Boston Childrens Chorus rise in song, carrying words they barely understand but certainly feel in the gospel hymnal "To the Mountain." Today we talk about honoring our lost and commit to moving on. The voice of the cello cries "Why?" The prayer surrenders and accepts. The faces of mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters turn away. And those of us who can go on, do. We rise and work, we take the children to school, we load the washing machine, chop green beans, hug our husbands and wives and kids because we know, really know, how fragile the thin thread is.

I run today through the cold bright sun. The new green limns the trees. The robin tucks the last straw into her nest. I run because I can and perhaps another cannot. I run because each day it is a gift to do so. I run for Boston, for me, for you. The thin fragile thread. I run because it is my way to pray. My heart beats "Why?"

Feet just pushing.
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The Family Tableau

by Robert Hass

On the morning of the Käthe Kollwitz exhibit, a young man and woman come into the museum restaurant. She is carrying a baby; he carries the air-freight edition of the Sunday New York Times. She sits in a high-backed wicker chair, cradling the infant in her arms. He fills a tray with fresh fruit, rolls, and coffee in white cups and brings it to the table. His hair is tousled, her eyes are puffy. They look like they were thrown down into sleep and then yanked out of it like divers coming up for air. He holds the baby. She drinks coffee, scans the front page, butters a roll and eats it in their little corner in the sun. After a while, she holds the baby. He reads the Book Review and eats some fruit. Then he holds the baby while she finds the section of the paper she wants and eats fruit and smokes. They’ve hardly exchanged a look. Meanwhile, I have fallen in love with this equitable arrangement, and with the baby who cooperates by sleeping. All around them are faces Käthe Kollwitz carved in wood of people with no talent or capacity for suffering who are suffering the numbest kinds of pain: hunger, helpless terror. But this young couple is reading the Sunday paper in the sun, the baby is sleeping, the green has begun to emerge from the rind of the cantaloupe, and everything seems possible.

It is the 19th of December. The Winter Solstice is in two days, the Christmas and New Year holidays pushing forward on the heels of a tough week of national loss. American families are in mourning, in confusion about what is and isn't the nature of the human heart. This morning I happened across this lovely, muted prose poem by Robert Haas, a poet of great gravitas and dignity I had the great good fortune to hear read from his work at Stanford during his tenure as United States Poet Laureate. Somehow in revisiting this poem ~ a poignant gentle sketch of a family outing ~ I came to my own sense of hope again. Of possibility that all of us will, in the passage of time, heal. And in the fullness of days, find peace once more in our hearts and possibility for goodness in the day.

Let us look to the warmth of family and friendship for the truth of the human spirit. Let us join hearts in these holidays and keep faith in goodness.
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The American Story: Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre

The world
was whole because
it shattered. When it shattered,
then we knew what it was.

~ from "Formaggio," Louise Gluck

Dear Friends,
This terrible massacre of school children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, outside Danbury, is still unfolding in its terrible details. I intended an entirely different blog today, but honestly, I find myself welling into tears at my desk. WHY? These innocent children, many of them among the very youngest, are dead. Eighteen confirmed as of this writing, but the numbers seem to keep climbing.

I cannot, as a mother, separate myself from the heartbreak and terror I know lies in the heart of each of the Sandy Hook Elementary families and teachers, their friends and relatives. Elementary schools are among our most close-knit education "families"...a dedicated community of educators, parent volunteers, and part-time librarians, language, art and gym instructors. The mission of elementary school is more than the teaching of learning fundamentals - it is also the encouragement of youngsters in early socialization skills: development of trust and comfort away from home, ease under the direction of unfamiliar adults, feeling safe in large groups. Sometimes the experience of school itself is a huge emotional and mental undertaking for the very young.

And then there are parents, who tremble on that first day and every day after they watch their children walk out the door on their way to school. We, who know our children are for the school day, solely in the safekeeping of others. How will any of us truly comprehend this horror come true - our worst nightmare? While I live in Washington, my own daughter went to school in Connecticut. We have dear friends there. Sandy Hook Elementary is every school. I do not know why this tragedy occurred here, or now. But I pray with all my heart for the families and faculty, staff and first responders. This is not the "American Story" we should be familiar with, but unfortunately, it is now the most common.

It is time to do something about gun control in America. Enough innocents have died at the hands of the violent. It is up to us to stop gun violence, in any way we can.
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