Monday, March 28, 2005

mindfulness of grief

After class ended this evening, I was reading one of my child lit books when I was distracted by a thought--or, rather, by an image. It got me thinking about grief--specifically, the grief of a child. I am not sure the thoughts are coherent, but perhaps putting words to them will make them more so, so I will try.
The image is a memory. One of the few times as a child that I was able to cry--to really cry, in the gut-level, wrenching manner that I needed to. Most often, as they do, these tears were prompted by one of 3 things: words, music, or beauty. Or, even more often, by a combination of 2 or more of these.
At any rate, the memory comes from one of the summers I spent at camp--this time at Camp Ocoee, where I later returned for several summers as a camp counselor. I went to a few church cams as well, but Ocoee was by far my favorite, with all its opportunities for kayaking, canoe trips, climbing, pet tarantulas . . . but that's another story :-)
What I was going to say ['when truth broke in with all her matter of fact about the ice storm'] is that this particular summer, as a camper of 10 or 11 years old, I had spent the 2 week session particularly gravitating towards one of the counselors. I was never bold enough to outwardly display it, but I just found a way to be near him, somehow, at open-camp events and downtimes. It wasn't exactly a conscious response . . . just a twinge of bittersweet longing his presence brought out in me--that sort of sadness that hints at something greater than our own somewhat stifling selves.
Towards the end of the session, during evening free time, a group of us were sitting around outside with our snacks, and this counselor got out his guitar. I do not remember what he was playing, or even what his voice sounded like. All I remember is watching his face, listening to his voice, and then suddenly, in spite of myself, losing all of my normal calm control. I was a shaking, wailing mess of a little girl. And, even at the time, I was immensely relieved at the ability to let out that pain that had been pressing against my heart all that time.
You see, something about this young man's voice, face, manner, or combination thereof, brought back to me some remnant of my father. And so, I do not know how much he actually looked like, or sounded like Daddy, but regardless, I needed that heart-nudge in order to begin to start what would be, for my heart, at least, a long and drawn-out process of grieving.
At the time, I ended up crying so desperately that my worried counselor ushered me away to the nurse's cabin, so I could continue my crying for some time yet, in peace and under the kind care of the nurse. But I really did not mind. I remember trying, in between sobs, to assure them that I was ok, really . . . that it was ok . . . that, in fact, I was more ok than I had been for some time. Because I was. That was a sort of a pattern that continued for quite a few years--long periods of stoic quiet seriousness followed by moments of letting-it-all-out.
And eventually, adulthood crept up on me. And somewhere between then and now I began to stop needing to grieve for my father, and began to live and to grieve for situations in my own life, or in the lives of people in my life. But I do believe that we each play a role in the lives of children around us.
Who knows but that we may, at any moment, be an impetus for some child's growth into the adulthood they need to reach. Or that we may provide some child with an outlet for the grief she needs so desperately to get out. Or the comfort she needs while grieving . . . What I do know is that we cannot, must not, underestimate the depth of children's emotions and experiences, as adults are so often prone to do, in our impatient busybodyness, bustling about through life. Oh, I do forget this so very often . . . and do resolve to be more mindful, more careful, more caring, in the future . . .


Julia said...

Dear Anna,

I could say so much about this entry, but mostly I was struck by the idea of this camp counselor who had such an effect on you, and who I'm sure was totally unconscious of having any effect. It reminds me of this passage from Brothers Karamazov. It's in the middle section which talks about the fictional Elder Zossima, and it's supposedly from one of his homilies:

"Keep company with yourself and look to yourself every day and hour, every minute, that your image be ever gracious. See, here you have passed by a small child, passed by in anger, with a foul word, with a wrathful soul; you perhaps did not notice the child, but he saw you, and your unsightly and impious image has remained in his defenseless heart. You did not know it, but you may thereby have planted a bad seed in him, and it may grow, and all because you did not restrain yourself before the child, because you did not nurture in yourself a heedful, active love."

This isn't exactly what your story here is about, but it connects with the idea of the unconcious effects (both good and bad) that grown-ups can have on children, without even knowing it-- particularly shy children who are noticing and absorbing everything, but who don't know how to articulate what they are thinking.

I have to add, Camp Ocoee is pretty dear to my heart too, cuz that's where I met you. ; )

anna j said...

thank you, dear Julia. i do so appreciate your kind and insightful comments . . . and, i might add, they are ancouraging to me as far as writing goes