Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

John Muir and Grief

(notice the two people at the base of the tree)

John Muir is one of my patron saints. He said, “Creation was not an act, it is a process, and it is going on today as much as it ever was.”

When we go to natural places like Yosemite (or Yellowstone, Joshua Tree, the Boundary Waters), it looks like it never changes. Yet if we go often, and pay attention to the details, we notice that everything is a little different than it was the last time we were here.

Mirror Lake has gradually filled in with sediment brought down by the river and becomes a meadow. Flakes of rock the size of houses have broken off Yosemite's massive valley walls and fallen, leaving white spots behind on the gray granite. A meadow in the west end of the valley that was completely open now has a forest of trees. The spring flood carved a new path through the valley and shifted the river 500 feet to the left.

Lesson number 1. Everything is continually changing in nature. 

In nature, changes are part of a process. Sandbars become meadows that eventually become forests. Plate tectonics raise the Sierra Nevada Mountains up. Wind, rain, and rivers wear the Sierra Nevada down. The climate gets warmer, and the Lyell Glacier that Muir measured begins to disappear.

Lesson number 2. The natural world continues to evolve. 

We are part of the movement of creation, too, as well as part of its destruction. One world ends and a new one begins. Old sections of our cities are town down, and new buildings are constructed.

We want everything we love to stay the same, yet even we aren’t who we used to be. We learn new things and our thinking shifts. We develop new relationships, and feel our hearts deepen. We grow. We evolve. We would not want to be who we were ten, twenty or thirty years ago because we are aware of so much more. We are wiser and, hopefully, more compassionate.

Lesson number 3. Life and death are ongoing in Yosemite.

Muir understood the ways of nature and accepted the cycle of life and death, yet he was so devastated by his wife’s death that he spent a year in the desert Southwest trying to get back on his feet. He has been my companion while hiking alone.

Lesson number 4. When a wife dies, it is the end of the world as we knew it.

We sometimes think of evolution as improvement. Yet for all of its changes over the last thousand years, the natural world is not more beautiful than it was. Its beauty is just different.

Nothing evolved from the deaths of our loved ones. They weren’t connected to anything else. But their deaths have changed the course of our lives.

Are we better because of grief? While our hearts may have deepened, and we may understand how desperately needed compassion is in the world, the death of people we loved has not led to lives that are better. They’re just different. We go on and we try to find meaning in the change. Sometimes there isn’t one.

We are raised up and worn down like the mountains, our low areas are filled in, and our high places are sharpened. The course of the river that flows through our hearts shifts as we follow its inquisitive path.

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