December Story: Ungrieved Grief

A few years ago my three year old daughter and I were playing in the front yard. It had snowed the night before and the world was new. She laughed stepping in my footprints. She jumped down on her stomach and licked the flavorless ice cream. It was early in the morning and the roads were unplowed, icy, and vacant. A delivery truck broke the silence and lumbered cautiously down our street. The driver was young, his head pushed over the steering wheel, straining to see the road. Grace stood next to me and watched the large animal creep across the ice. Then from stereo right we heard the high pitched whir of a Volkswagen. It’s tires chained with confidence, it ran up hill unhindered by the glassy blacktop. The truck driver was startled by the yellow VW and locked his brakes until the truck, like a speared elephant, keeled sideways, and slid slow, and wounded toward our parked station wagon. Helpless, the driver frantically turned the wheel while the bumper dragged its wide overbite along the driver-side door. Gracie, standing next to me, reached for my leg. When the truck came to a stop she asked, “What happened Daddy?”

“The truck slipped.”

“Oh,” she replied, uncertain what to feel.

The driver stepped out from the truck. His face was shrouded in remorse. “I’m sorry,” he called eagerly over the idling engine. He went back inside and shut off the engine, then rolled the passenger window down and called out a second time, “I’m so sorry.” He shuffled through the glove box, then walked gingerly, respectfully, with long high steps across our snow covered lawn. He said to me, “They sent me out, but I should’ve just turned back. I shouldn’t have been driving in this weather.”

He was a large man and his scuffed work boots left deep impressions in the snow. I felt sorry for the guy and said to him, “It’s O.K. It’s an old car.” He stood a few yards away, keeping a polite but awkward distance. He looked down and noticed Grace for the first time then shook his head mournfully. Still gazing at my daughter he said to himself, “They’ll put me back in the warehouse for sure now.”

I didn’t know what to say. Gracie was quiet, taking in the stranger’s face. Without turning her head she pulled on my pant leg to be lifted up. I reached down and hoisted her up with one arm. She gently laid her fluffy, pink jacketed body across my chest, pushed her cold nose against my neck. It took me a moment before I noticed her crying. Worried, I held her out so I could look her over, see if there was an injury. “Gracie? Did you get hurt?” She shook her head. “I’m just sad,” she said sadly. And then I realized what was happening. She was crying the tears of Chad the delivery truck driver. The driver who had spent five years working in a cold warehouse and now, having suffered his second accident, would be forced to go back to the warehouse job he’d spent five years hoping to leave.

When did we become insulated from life?  When did our hearts close up?  At what point in our lives did we lose the capacity to feel?

Part of the hardening of hearts that happens in North America comes from un-grieved grief.  We look at pictures of Iraqi mothers wailing over dead children.  We observe their faces.  We note the numbered dead.  A mistaken target, a misplaced missile, authorities don’t confirm or deny the existence of the dead child and mother.  We look.  We feel no response.  It is a tired story.  So we click the screen or turn the page, suddenly curious to see if Jeff Bridges won the Golden Globe.

Life is painful.  An open heart is easily wounded.  The suffering that we inflict on one another becomes unbearable.  Our hearts turn to stone for good reason.  Out of a desire for self-protection we blind our own eyes, deafen our ears, insulate our own hearts from the rest of the world.  With good reason we grow and tend a heart of stone.

And yet, there are consequences to a closed heart.  We become unseeing, unfeeling, insensitive to injustice, disconnected from the Love that is God.  Within a heart of stone we become suspicious and mistrustful.  We become preoccupied with our own security and happiness.  We pretend more, we hide our true thoughts and desires fearing what others will think.  Disconnected from the love of God and the love of others, we worry about the surface of our lives—how we look, what we’ll wear, what we accomplish, what we own.

Soon life becomes a burden,–a series of tasks to complete, a job assignment that we must control and manage and get right.  Disconnected, we feel envious and full of judgment, unceasingly comparing ourselves with others.  Disconnected, we lose all compassion.  We see others as competitors or enemies, we criticize, we envy, we mock, we pity, but rarely do we befriend.

Disconnected from Love we grow weary.  Disconnected from Love, there is no rest.  Disconnected from our own hearts, our own neighbors, alienated from the Compassionate Presence that waits within each moment, we no longer feel, we no longer grieve, we lose our compassionate powers, the image of God, our birthright, our humanity.



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