I’m thinking again about the unlikely friendship of grief, and how she loves to hold the hands of hope even in her awkwardness as she leans into our lives, rarely announced and almost always uninvited. I’m thinking again about how we carry multitudes within us as we live and breathe and walk our pockmarked roads.
My grandson is already carrying the complexity within his small frame—as he learns how that frame can hold both the celebration of adventures like a baseball game on a summer afternoon in a new city while it aches for the arms of his parents back home. I’ve carried that same celebration and ache for decades now. And the strange unlikely friendship holds space at a table filled with headlines and phone calls and texts and posts and people—all crying out for a harvest of joy.
“The brother and sister are part of our Montessori program.”
There are so many stories that don’t make headlines, that won’t be passed around in memes and breaking news reports. And yet, the depth of the ache is just as strong. This story is from Guatemala.
“Their mom passed away—her lungs filled with fluid and she could not breathe. There was no dad around.”
Grief squeezes tightly.
“But the mom had a brother, and he and his wife have stepped in.”
Hope returns the favor.
“Their uncle passed away today, just like their mom.”
Grief leans in again. The pandemic has taken its toll once more, and now a woman connected only by love does all she can to protect the two little ones who have become her life.
Sometimes, the hand-holding looks more like a tug of war.
In Afghanistan, women and girls veil themselves in the religious demands of those who see them as afterthoughts. In Haiti, the death count continues to rise as the sun scorches those begging for help. Friends in Australia await access to a vaccine many in my country disregard. In Honduras, schools remain closed. And here in the US, the war of words rages about liberty and privilege, who is marginalized and which side is right and who gets a say. We are quick to blame, slow to listen, even slower to gain understanding. Grief is given a stopwatch. Hope isn’t given much hope at all.
“I’m feeling nostalgic, like happy-sad,” Sawyer says as we snuggle in for the final night of his first-ever trip away from home. “I think that, if we’re really honest, most of our days taste bittersweet,” I respond. He smiles and nods. One day we’ll talk about how bittersweet isn’t just the description of a taste or a mood but also a perennial plant that offers up fruit both delightful and poisonous. He’s used to me telling stories that change stories. He’s learning to tell them himself.
Sometimes, the hand-holding feels like a dance.
A simple meal of bread and wine, milk and honey is all that is offered those who sit at the rough-hewn table of grief’s greater story. Bread and wine to remind us that what is pressed down, crushed, shaken, shaped, refined by fire and transformed by time will bring sustenance and celebration. Milk and honey to remind us that there is wholeness and healing to be found if we keep leaning in to listen to the voice of the One who says, “Take My hand and let’s walk together.”
At the table, hope is born. At the table, joy finds new breath.
At the table, the hand-holding becomes a prayer. And grief becomes the unlikely friend who holds most tightly.
And now, God, do it again—
bring rains to our drought-stricken lives
So those who planted their crops in despair
will shout “Yes!” at the harvest,
So those who went off with heavy hearts
will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing. (Psalm 126:4-6)
So, today, as I consider the unlikely friendship of grief and how she loves to hold hands with hope, I think of you. No matter what this day holds, no matter what season it is you are walking, it’s OK for the days to be bittersweet. It’s OK for there to be a bit of nostalgia. It’s OK to both celebrate and ache. And it’s OK to believe there is a harvest of joy on the way.