Grief and Remembering and the Penumbra

Grief and Remembering and the Penumbra

To my dear friend who is grieving.

I feel the pain radiating through your words, and they (as well as the grief described) are beautiful.

Have you read Out of the Silent Planet by CS Lewis? Your words made me think of the novel’s assertion that Earth is the “silent” planet, whose inhabitants are “bent” because we have missed the mark and do not speak directly with God. Here’s one of my favorite passages wherein Ransom, a human, speaks with an alien Hross:

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‘Is the begetting of young not a pleasure among the hrossa?’

‘A very great one, Hmān. This is what we call love.’

‘If a thing is a pleasure, a hmān wants it again. He might want the pleasure more often than the number of young that could be fed.’

It took Hyoi a long time to get the point.

‘You mean,’ he said slowly, ‘that he might do it not only in one or two years of his life but again?’

‘Yes.’

‘But why? Would he want his dinner all day or want to sleep after he had slept? I do not understand.’

‘But a dinner comes every day. This love, you say, comes only once while the hross lives?’

‘But it takes his whole life. When he is young he has to look for his mate; and then he has to court her; then he begets young; then he rears them; then he remembers all this, and boils it inside him and makes it into poems and wisdom.’

‘But the pleasure he must be content only to remember?’

‘That is like saying “My food I must be content only to eat.”’

‘I do not understand.’

‘A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hmān, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing. The séroni could say it better than I say it now. Not better than I could say it in a poem. What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure, as the crah is the last part of a poem. When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then—that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it. You say you have poets in your world. Do they not teach you this?’

‘Perhaps some of them do,’ said Ransom. ‘But even in a poem does a hross never long to hear one splendid line over again?’

Hyoi’s reply unfortunately turned on one of those points in their language which Ransom had not mastered. There were two verbs which both, as far as he could see, meant to long or yearn; but the hrossa drew a sharp distinction, even an opposition, between them. Hyoi seemed to him merely to be saying that every one would long for it (wondelone) but no one in his senses could long for it (hluntheline).

‘And indeed,’ he continued, ‘the poem is a good example. For the most splendid line becomes fully splendid only by means of all the lines after it; if you went back to it you would find it less splendid than you thought. You would kill it. I mean in a good poem.’

‘But in a bent poem, Hyoi?’

‘A bent poem is not listened to, Hmān.’

‘And how of love in a bent life?’

‘How could the life of a hnau be bent?’

‘Do you say, Hyoi, that there are no bent hrossa?’

Hyoi reflected. ‘I have heard,’ he said at last, ‘of something like what you mean. It is said that sometimes here and there a cub at a certain age gets strange twists in him. I have heard of one that wanted to eat earth; there might, perhaps, be somewhere a hross likewise that wanted to have the years of love prolonged. I have not heard of it, but it might be. I have heard of something stranger. There is a poem about a hross who lived long ago, in another handramit, who saw things all made two—two suns in the sky, two heads on a neck; and last of all they say that he fell into such a frenzy that he desired two mates. I do not ask you to believe it, but that is the story: that he loved two hressni.’

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Your mourning is a beautiful thing, my friend. It means you loved the people who are gone, that they live on within you. You hurt so deeply and fully precisely because they lived so fully in your life. Life is pain, but it is the very sweetness of valuing what we can (and eventually do) lose that makes it worth living. On the one hand, it sucks—but on the other, would we really have it any different? If the people we’ve loved and lost in our lives and the mountain top moments of epiphany and transformation were all we knew, we would not value them. If stories were always happy, we would grow disinterested. That pain you feel so acutely is the very edge of what true beauty and the meaning of life are all about.

I’ve heard it said that God giveth and he taketh away—but what I suspect we all miss in that simple statement is that they are two sides of the same precious gift called life. By nature, we “bent” men and women always want something other than the time and space we are apportioned.

And the whole cycle of existence and living, and birthing and dying, are profoundly beautiful. It’s the voids and the losses and the flaws and the wounds that guide us to the truth of it all…

…and I’d take one moment sipping wine while we gaze into each other’s eyes just once, even if that means I have to live lifetime after lifetime of not-those-moments.

That penumbra that we inhabit between the chaos and order of life is scary, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s really what life is all about. I choose to live in the penumbra and celebrate even the painful remembering.

“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.”

Because it means that I and they and all of it IS.

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