I came across an author interview on YouTube yesterday, featuring Mary Karr and Helen Macdonald. Mary, I have listened to on numerous occasions, but never before had I heard of Helen. She is the author of H is for Hawk, an autobiographical account of how she trained a predatory goshawk as a way to deal with her father’s death.
It was not a far-fetched thing for her as she was a falconer, and it wasn’t losing her father that intrigued me, it was her extraordinary poetic and sublimely articulate way of describing this period in her life that did. (Please excuse the excessive use of adverbs.)
Having lost my father last year, I could relate to her escapism. Though, far from becoming a naturalist, I dove into the boring job of cleaning, decluttering and reorganizing cupboards and closets in my home. I had such zeal and energy for this – until I didn’t. Then everything came crashing down.
Helen is British and between her accent and beautiful vocabulary, I soaked up the conversation as nourishment for my soul. However, I had to pause the video when she said, “When you have a big grief you can’t be you anymore”.
Those words spoke to the core of my experience and I could think of nothing else until I put some words to it in a poem. Not caring whether it was good or not, in fact it probably isn’t. It begins like this:
When You Have a Big Grief…
The whole stratosphere shatters
everything is transient
nothing can be trusted
the ground becomes
a gaping hole.
The poem continues for several stanzas and then I went for a walk.
Inspired, I suppose, by Helen’s experiences with training, living and hunting with her hawk “Mabel”, I chose to finally face a death of another nature. One that took place on May 21, 2018. An overnight fire at Sunnybrook Stables in Toronto, taking the lives of 16 horses.
I was a frequent visitor to the stables over the years; watching the horses grazing in the field or jumping in training sessions. When I heard of the fire it sucked the air out of me in shock and grief. My coping mechanism was to shut it out because it hurt too much.
As I watch the news clip, finally, today – my heart flutters its sadness.
I went resolutely prepared to see death in remnants of the barn. I know it’s almost two years, but time collapsed and I thought it was only perhaps one. Regardless, for some reason I expected to see a charred building abandoned. Instead there was only the ground – with a gaping hole.
The Sunnybrook Stables has been a city icon, a heritage for over 100 years – gone now and not to be rebuilt.
A big death indeed.
Grief is a long slow process. It comes in waves and tsunami’s. There’s pain and sorrow, anger and fits, impatience and burrowing away under covers.
Here’s another excerpt from my poem:
The world shouts to get back on the train
but that within, whispers, no don’t.
It’s too soon for hope
too soon for wings
too soon for all the noise
but faith with lonely,
now that’s a sacred thing.
The line between life and death is so very thin and most of us never live in that knowing – until it comes for us.
I very much want to live with an open heart, to not shut down when the hard times consume. It takes intentional, thoughtful effort to live a breathtaking life. Writing, journaling and other creative practices help us to slow life down, to take notice, to feel, to think and to reflect on what our living means to ourselves, to others, and to our God.
I feel the pressure to jump back on the train some days, with the push and pull of the world whirling all around, but the sacred does call; the spirit within and the pen and paper. The latter infinitely more enticing.