Except by an act of grace

what Rilke is teaching me about grief

On my train-ride downtown to my office this afternoon (there was a power outage, and I had to bring a file-share back online) a tear fell from my face onto a page of the Rilke book I was reading, in which Rainer had written Claire Goll after the death of her father:

[..] Now it is necessary, in an unspeakably and inexhaustibly magnanimous gesture of pain, to include death in life, all of death, since through someone precious to you it has moved within your reach (and you have become related to it). Make it part of life as something no longer to be rejected, no longer denied. Pull it toward you with all your strength, this horrific thing, and as long as you cannot do that, pretend that you are comfortable and familiar with it. Don’t scare it off by being scared of it (like everyone else). Interact with it or, if that is still too much of an effort for you, at least hold still so that it can get very close, that always chased-off creature of death, and let it cuddle up to you.

For this, you see, is what death has become for us: something always chased away that no longer had a chance of revealing itself to us. If at the moment when it hurts and open-mindedness toward it, a brief suppression of prejudice, and it is ready to share infinite intimacies that would overwhelm our tendency to endure it with trembling hesitation.

Patience, Liliane, nothing but: patience.

Once you have been granted access to the Whole and thus been initiated, you solemnly celebrate your own true independence. You become more protective and more capable of granting protection exactly to the extent that you have lost and now lack protection. The solitude into which you were cast so violently makes you capable of balancing out the loneliness of others to exactly the same degree. And as your own sense of difficulty is concerned, you will soon realize that it has posited a new measure for your existence and a new standard for your suffering and endurance.

[..] I am trying nothing more but to be close to you with these simple words. On some later occasion, you will tell me whether they were of any use,for nobody comes close to true assistance and consolation, except by an act of grace.

- Rainer

I closed the book, tucked it under my left arm - took off my gloves, reached for my tea - and brushed hands with the brunette in her late 20′s sitting next to me as she was trying to read the title that was obstructed by my jacket. I apologized, smiled, wiped what remained of the salt from my cheek, pulled the book out, and handed it over for her to investigate. She opened and asked, “Which letter were you reading?” (her eyes said “I want to read what made you cry”). 

I turn to the page, one of 7 dog ears I’ve made. There’s still 8 minutes before my stop. Plenty of time. She asks if my father is still living, I tell her both my parents are in good health, and that I know another type of grief - but most of it translates. She reads the letter twice and wipes away her own tears before they make contact with the page. I asked which part made her cry. She tells me “you first!” and we both laugh at the audacity of crying with a stranger on a train.  

I tell her “I generally have to read Rilke 10 times before I comprehend even 50% of what he’s saying, but what spoke to me the most is/was his understanding of grace. I know grace does not belong to me - even when it’s a part of me. And it only became a part of me after I had been transformed enough for it to enter my life. And when it takes root, or when grace acts in my life - it’s only because I was willing regardless of the outcome. I’m still learning how to be willing enough so grace can act on its own terms.” 

She looks at me, smirks, and says “You know people don’t really talk like that anymore.

I smiled and said, “I think people want to, they just don’t know how.”

“Well then, how?”

“I wish I knew, I don’t even know how it happened in my own life - I think it’s something that happens when you trust the person you’re becoming more than anyone else”.

“I’m guessing you can’t tell me how that happened either?”

“If we had more time, perhaps. I don’t have to understand the why’s and how’s as much as I used to.”

** She looks at me with doubt and skepticism. I know it’s reasonable. **

“This is me,” I say as the doors chime. I motion towards the book in her hands “You hold onto that for me?”

“Oh, I couldn’t - we don’t even know each other’s names.”
“I insist. Plus I have a digital copy.”

I step outside into the rain and sleet. She holds the book at the window as the train pulls away. Anytime a book finds its way into someone else’s hands is another act of grace - and I trust in that. I trust in grace as much as I believe in the person I’m becoming. They’re both a refinement of movement and the whole. 

With Love and Tenderness