“Our Losses, Our Sorrows,” by Tess Hartford

message given at Durham Friends Meeting, November 5, 2023

Dear Friends,   It is my privilege to bring the message this morning and my hopes are that it will bring blessing and closure in some manner to us this day, in this season of the drawing back of nature’s life force to be contained and conserved in the darkness, preparing for another season of growth in yet another time. I asked to bring the message today for two reasons. One, because there was an empty line on our calendar for message bringers, but more importantly  because this message has been growing inside of me for at least two years, perhaps even more.

I have captured little thoughts and inspirations from the life and lives we share as a corporate body and of course from my personal prayers, meditations and conversations with the invisible realms, with the angels and spiritual guides, with my relationship with God.

This message comes out now following our last Sunday’s Meeting for Grieving as a continuation of the deep need to honor and grieve all those we have said goodbye to over the last three years and also all that has been lost within our community as a result of the Corona virus pandemic.  I want to speak to all of this because our wounding from it is deep, and because it continues to reverberate throughout the present experience we share. I am mindful that not all has been lost, and there have been gains of new growth and adaptation throughout this period as well. BUT, I want in this moment  in time to give attention and voice, here and now, to what we have lost. To give voice to that which causes us to sorrow, here, in our small beloved community and beyond! Because our small, beloved community exists in the larger world and we recognize how our lives are affected by tragedies around us. That which we sorrow after is the physical, warm, flesh and blood and bone presence of our friends. Those who we sorrow over have vanished from our sight and we are filled with sadness while we continue to yearn for the, while we long for their presence among us. The spaces that they inhabited are now hollow……….. We no longer feel the comfort of their tenderness, or the joy of their laughter. We no longer bask in the light of their eyes and the music of their voices, each one’s unique and distinct personality and the vibrance  of their spirits. What makes these losses even more poignant is that they are not flesh and blood family members. They and we are a body of like- minded spirits who come together in relationship because we share in the common desire to seek after God, we come together to worship the Divine in all life and in each other , to lift one another into that light and to be led by that life and fullness. So, it is right and good that we suffer the absence of their warmth and companionship and shed our tears and feel the gnawing in our throats when their memories rise within us.

I personally grieve a lot of life that has been missed since we stopped meeting here in this holy space, our Meetinghouse. And I will say it again, how I ache over missing our connectivity by not gathering near to one another for two long years. My soul aches terribly when I think about the slow deaths of aged ones who in their isolation during the lockdown, were buried  by the weight of loneliness and lack of human touch. I grieve over the loss of our young families and the precious growing years of our youth, never to be recovered. And I grieve over the misunderstandings and hard and difficult differences among us that were only magnified when we couldn’t sit down with one another in attempts to work things through. I grieve the loss of normalcy and the strange, cold distancing that kept us afraid of one another getting close. I the reality and trauma of mask wearing, robbing us of seeing each other’s facial expressions and smiles, and I grieve that weddings and funerals and birthdays and graduations were not celebrated as is our custom in the life of our Meeting community. I grieve and regret the disruption of our lives together and many who are no longer with us.’ But,’ you might say, we survived and we came through and we and we and we……………………………………………. And that is true, but today’s message is not about survival, is not about adapting, it is not about how we came through. As I said at the beginning, this message is about loss. Let us allow one another to grieve our losses, pay them the attention they deserve, and then and only then, in the space that follows look to and acknowledge all that we have survived and how we have come through.

When my mother died eleven years ago, I remember the sense of losing the biggest part of myself, that beautiful woman who brought me into the world and was my anchor here spiritually and physically. Suddenly, she was gone, no more laughter and shared moments, no more going to the grocery store with her or for her, no more dinners and sleepovers and family gatherings, no more trips to PA, or Vermont or Ohio. She was just gone- and her leave taking ripped away at the very fabric of life and time and purpose. I remember feeling such terrible loneliness and raw sadness going into the grocery store, knowing that I was not shopping for her anymore. It would come over me and permeate my whole self, such that I would feel like a little lost girl and could not wait to get out of there.

And so, it is with each one of us, missing the people who have gone on and are no longer with us.  Who have gone with their precious human forms, leaving with a little portion of our souls that go with theirs.

And so, here we are, still here, with each other, figuring out the new dance steps with fewer dancers remaining. Like survivors of a shipwreck holding tight to the flotsam of debris left floating on the sea, holding on for dear life to one another.

It becomes even stronger then, our need for one another. Our need to pray with one another and for each other. To bear up patiently and with deep kindness, the understanding that we are all surviving the pain and the losses, the trauma of our collective suffering on a grand scale. And that we carry the burden of grief and sorrow together.

I want to close now with the words of an amazing soul who was a poet, philosopher and artist. Born in 1883 and who lived till 1931. Kahlil Gibran, who  many know, for his seminal work,” The Prophet. “  It is one of my favorite works of spiritual writing which as of this year is 100 years old. It is a collection of poems in which innumerable people have found in them an expression of the deepest impulses of man’s heart and mind.

So I end this message with Gibran’s poem called, “On Joy and Sorrow”

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.

And he answered:

Your joy is you sorrow unmasked.  And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, made by the carver’s knife?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you that they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.

When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.