The Nature of Peace

“[W]reathes of smoke / Sent up in silence, from among the trees.”

-William Wordsworth, from
“Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”

My family and I left for a much-needed holiday on the Welsh border as London exploded in riots. We decided weeks ago that we wanted to “escape” the city, but little did we know all that we would be escaping. Since that time, we have been following reports of neighbourhoods very near our own North London home erupting in looting and violence.

Meanwhile, we have been exploring the idyllic countryside of the Wye valley. Images of London engulfed in flame have interspersed with dazzling greenery, the likes of which inspired Wordsworth to compose his famous poem set above Tintern Abbey. The Abbey itself, dismantled by decree from Henry VIII, rises skeletal in the countryside, like the fire-gutted shops, double-decker buses, and police cars photographed on London streets.

In the poem, Wordsworth declares, “I have learned / To look on nature, not as in the hour / Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes / The still, sad music of humanity.” Indeed, this still, sad music has been with me on our journey through the “sylvan Wye.” I am struck by the quiet of this place, in contrast to London’s constant hustle, and the lush natural forms, as compared to the barrage of advertisements, the likes of which program all of us, including would-be looters, that if only we had an iPad, we might be happy.

Here, with space and beauty, where even the grass seems content, it is hard to imagine humans piled into housing estates, crammed into tube carriages at rush hour, struggling against each other to get by. And it seems only natural that such unnatural circumstances are kindling awaiting a spark. My heart goes out to London, and all the cities in the UK experiencing unrest.

A fire is flickering in a great stone hearth in our fourteenth-century cottage. The moon is bathing the river and meadows blue, while the trees darken almost to black. It seems to me the peace we feel in such circumstances runs deep within our nature. I wish the peace of the Wye could wash over all of Britain tonight.

The Blessings of Complicated Grief

“No motion has she now, no force; / She neither hears nor sees; / Roll’d round in earth’s diurnal course, / With rocks, and stones, and trees.”

-William Wordsworth, “Lucy”

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the birth and death of a poet-friend’s son. Today we finished packing baby items originally bought for our own son, James, to pass along to our nephew-to-be in Australia. No life is simple. But while most Americans are firing up their grills or caravanning to the beach to enjoy the easy pleasures of a three-day weekend, I find myself sifting through a tangle of thoughts and feelings that seem, well, complex.

The clinical term for a sometimes-debilitating sadness that persists long after the moment of loss is “complicated grief.” The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide online says that “the disorder is more likely to occur after a death that is traumatic — premature, sudden, violent, or unexpected,” and the Mayo Clinic website cites “risk factors” such as “being unprepared for the death,” and “in the case of a child’s death, the number of remaining children.”

Loss is never simple. However, if I were to try to define a corollary to this condition, called “simple grief,” an illustrative example would be the death of a grandparent who had been sick for some time, and who had lived a long and happy life. Such a loss fits the framework of most cultural beliefs about the natural and acceptable cycles of life and death. The death of a child, or suicide of a loved one, however, do not.

And so, the complication, for me, became existential. Without the agreed-upon societal mythos about life and death to guide me toward resolution, I have had to come to terms with, and make meaning from, this experience anew. A lifetime of spiritual studies taught me that any situation, no matter how intense, could be used to learn and grow. Losing our son, and not being able to have another child, tested this belief intensely.
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Monty Python on Poetry

In case, like me, you may have been taking yourself a bit too seriously lately, please enjoy what may be one of the strangest Monty Python sketches in history, featuring three of the big six of Romantic poetry, ants, the queen, and lots of sherry — all conveniently subtitled in Spanish:

[youtube=]<a href="" target="_blank">Click here to watch the video.</a>