Winter in New England has a stark beauty, and sometimes it also has a relentless gray bleakness, which brings a certain kind of reflection. Lately I’ve been considering the sharp pain of loss and the role that rituals and community can provide. We’ve spent centuries developing ways to support and comfort one another, and when those comforts are needed, wow, they are powerful. There are rules about funerals and mourning and bereavement leave, a bridge of structures to get through the initial acute misery. And then there are friends and memorials and counselors, to hold you up through the longer and more chronic sadness that stretches out further.
This season can also bring on a powerful case of the might-have-beens, the almosts, the could-haves, and worst of all, the should-haves. When these afflictions hit, we don’t really have rules to carry us through. There are not rituals for absence in the same way there are for for loss. Where nothing has existed, how can it be mourned?
Though we don’t have rituals for absence, we do have models. Have you ever seen a blank spot in the forest? It does not exist. Plenty of spots lack trees, of course: there might be a glen, where the soil supports a patch of grass instead of pines. There might be an open spot where a stretch of rock has broken through the topsoil. But these places are not empty. They just have an absence of trees.
Absence is all around. But absence is not empty.
Dear Honeybees, if you encounter midwinter loss, I hope that ritual and community shelter you through the storm and its aftermath. And if you encounter the could-haves of absence, I hope that you also find the haves, the life that springs up to fill any gap.
* Painting by Lavaughan Jenkins. And if you haven’t watched On the Waterfront lately, hooooo doggie, it’s got all of the above and way more!