That title comes from a Jane Kenyon poem entitled “Twilight: After Haying.” In the penultimate stanza, she writes “the soul’s bliss / and suffering are bound together / like the grasses…” This illustrates a conundrum many (myself included) have wrestled with throughout the ages–namely, our seeming inability to experience true beauty and connection without the dark contrast of loss. Or, as the old cliché goes, we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone–or at least until there’s some kind of threat to it. As Emily plaintively asks the Stage Manager towards the end of the play Our Town, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute?” To which the Stage Manager answers, “No,” though he amends this to “The saints and poets. Maybe they do some.” This inability is, perhaps, an outcome of our fallen human condition. We are constantly losing sight of what matters until some kind of suffering or loss gets us back on track. That’s a bit depressing–except for the beauty and the radically deepened awareness that sorrow and loss can initiate.
Nature models this for us in the layers of rich hues painting the sky before the sun drops into darkness, the vivid flame of autumn leaves before they drop to the ground and crumble. A friend of mine whose husband is battling prostate cancer wrote to me about all the tiny details she was noticing and relishing while sitting next to him in the hospital after he had surgery–the softness of the hairs on his arm, the smell of his neck, the blue of his eyes. Another friend whose mother died this past summer played Bach trios (one of her mother’s favorite composers) with her brother and a friend for hours on that final day, filling the house with music; she told me through tears later that night how the beauty of that experience was something she could not even begin to put into words. She was sobbing but she was also full of joy, a combination of emotions I was familiar with, having experienced my own taste of beauty in anguish in the last days of my mother’s life, when my family gathered around her bed, laid hands on her, and sang all her favorite hymns. It’s the anguished joy of Mary, pouring fragrant oil on the feet of Jesus and washing them with her hair.
The reality is that all of our time with those we love is precious remaining time, but so often we don’t realize that until the loss becomes tangible, until it surrounds us. So yes, it’s sad that beauty must so often be accompanied by sorrow and loss. But what consolation that sorrow and loss are so entangled in beauty.