Words of Hope: Time Intolerable

Grief continues to surprise me. The other night I missed Dad so much I just lay on my bed crying for a while. The pain of his loss felt like a sharp dagger. Finally, I just groaned silently to myself in my pain and focused on God promising this pain will pass. Sure enough, when the morning came, the daggerlike sensation was gone.  

Grief shows up unexpectedly and hurts much more than I anticipated. Sometimes, the greatest consolation during these times is knowing that they will pass like the travail of childbirth.  

Christian Wiman, former editor of “Poetry Magazine,” the top poetry journal in the world, has a rare and incredibly painful cancer. Sometimes he writes that his pain drives every thought from his mind, his only consolation is waiting for it to pass. In moments when he has space to think and contemplate, he gives us such beautiful poetry and insight. In an online interview he speaks about the poets who move him.  

“I’m much more moved by someone like the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam. And I happen to just have translated a few of his poems…Now Mandelstam was hounded to death by Stalin, and one of the reasons was he wrote a famous poem that was a mockery of Stalin, which he recited to some friends. And in those days, people could — they were so used to hearing poetry and reciting poetry that they could hear it once and keep it in their heads. And someone memorized the poem from his recitation and then took it to Stalin, and his fate was sealed. So, here’s the last day of Mandelstam’s writing life — not the last day of his life; he died in a transit camp not long after this. Picking through garbage was the last anyone saw of him. And he knew what was about to happen to him, and he knew all too well, and he was composing these poems right up until the end.” 

“And I was alive in the blizzard of the blossoming pear,  
Myself I stood in the storm of the bird-cherry tree.  
 It was all leaflife and starshower unerring, self-shattering power,   
And it was all aimed at me. 
What is this dire delight flowering fleeing always earth?  
 What is being? What is truth? 
Blossoms rupture and rapture the air,  
 All hover and hammer,  
 Time intensified and time intolerable, sweetness raveling rot.  
 It is now. It is not.” 

Like this poet, the beauty of the world can be like grief to me, so breathtaking, it hurts me with its glory and its brevity. Anyone who knows grief knows this feeling: this utter desolation in the beauty of a flowering tree where the blossoms live then all too quickly die. I find no consolation in the face of such beauty and grief except to cling by faith that the morning is coming. Jesus as the promised Morning Star comes with healing. 

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:26