My dear friend Father Larry Gosselin recently posted a quote from Francis Ward Weller, a therapist and grief counselor. I want to share it and a few of my own reflections.
The work of the mature person
Is to carry grief in one hand
And gratitude in the other
And to be stretched large by them.
How much sorrow can I hold?
That’s how much gratitude I can give.
If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair.
If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine
And won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering.
Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft,
Which makes compassion possible.
At times in my life, I’ve been asked who my “spiritual heroes” are. My response: the many older people I’ve known in my congregations. They’ve lived through hard times and personal tragedies, but somehow have become calm, thoughtful, and caring.
To this I’d add Hospice volunteers who’ve experienced the loss of people they loved, then followed a calling to simply be present with others living in times of fear and unknowing.
Of course, maturity doesn’t always come with the accumulation of age; some young people have unusual wisdom and insight. We call them “old souls.”
I’m wary of simplistic formulas for life. I distrust promises that we can be happy all the time if we just make the right effort.
I’ve known people who have lost loved ones in ways that will always haunt me, and I don’t know how they bear it.
I do not believe there is a divine pain manager who sends suffering our way to improve our character.
Eleven years ago, I participated in a retreat at Esalen with the great mystic and global spirituality scholar, Huston Smith. He was 91 and physically frail. I remember him saying, “We are born in mystery, we live in mystery, we die in mystery.” He said those words with a full smile and clear light in his eyes.
Something is here that holds us.
Image: Close-up of “Return of the Prodigal” by Rembrandt