An example that helps me find my way through the fog of grief I’m in is the Sufi mystic, Rumi. Rumi’s dear and closest friend, Shams, a man he was so close and intimate with that many a queer person of faith have wondered “were they lovers?”, disappeared suddenly in the night. Likely he was killed, brutally, but his body was never found.
The stunning shocking grief Rumi had is something he describes in his poems, looking out searching all over for his beloved. I can relate with this upon the opposite experience, finding not my wife but a body her spirit had left ascending like some flame-touched angel upon glowing wing into the other world. I too find myself shocked, moving through a fog, my heart searching for her everywhere.
Rumi turned his grief into beauty. He channeled his loss into his deep spiritual life as a Sufi mystic, one of the great souls in Islam who like Christian mystics through the ages seeks a deep personal union of soul and spirit with the Sacred. Sufi mystics follow the example of Muhammad whose faith was accepted in part due to the beauty of the stirring poetry of the Qu’ran in original Arabic. They recite their experiences of enlightenment too in poem, often while in whirling dance. Rumi let his grief open him to deep enlightenment, which he expressed through composing some of the most moving, inspiring poems in human history. These poems are beauty, beauty borne out of great pain.
I am no Rumi, neither a saintly mystic for I am far too jaded by the ugliness of life to ever hope to be a saint, nor of his caliber as a poet. But I learn from his example, as one of the saints I strive to follow in the footsteps of, that writing, art, dance, and music can both be thin places through which we encounter the Sacred Other for which our hearts long and also that through such creative expression we can confront our grief in healing ways that transform it to beauty. This example is why I write this grief journal, parts of which I share here.
As a part of this journey, I have begun to write some of my own Shams songs, words written at the loss of my heart’s love. This is one that speaks of the pain of my grief. I share it in hopes that it will help some of you in grief give words to your pain:
Watching you go away was never easy for me.
I could hardly bear to do it that first California night
when we rode so full of laughter
adrift in shining desert sands
gas pump hanging limp from our friend’s Focus,
while (irony!) we mocked his talk of romance.
I had the best conversation of my life that night
and thought God this girl is amazing.
I wish this could last forever.
I could almost not handle hearing when evening’s light was faded.
“its late. I have to go”.
Watching you go away was never easy for me
as late night talks and dinner dates for hours stretched
after trips to arcades and playing tag in the mall like children
after long nights under starlight sharing secrets
until the sun split the sky open with morning like a ripe melon.
Each time it seemed, as you held my heart in your hands,
you’d whisper to me like some dream of the night
while I stood breathless, my soul also split naked and open,
“morning is coming. I have to go”.
Not knowing an evening dream cannot be forced into daylight
and angel wings cannot linger long in grassy morning dew,
I thought that fateful evening as we sat
on that sloping green hill deep in the valley
surrounded by mountain peaks like fairy tale castle walls
hand in hand hearing you say “Yes” to me
that watching you go away would be over.
“We’ll build a life together” we promised.
“Where we don’t have to part at the waning of the night”.
Is it any wonder with promises like that
watching you go away was not easy for me
when the house in Colton we built for God together
came crashing down around us like some Jenga tower
its walls and floors a tumbling down.
There was one thread I held tight to that cool Albequerque night,
the thread of your smooth fingers in mine,
woven together with the scent of your skin on my shoulder,
a thread which slipped through my tear-drenched fingers
like so much desert sand
when you turned to me and said
“I’m not sure about us anymore,”
and, hopping into a greyhound, you were gone
like the morning mist blown away by hot desert wind.
My eyes darkened, the shine of your smile fading from view.
Your leaving was to me a shadow turning the hillside of my soul an inky black
til I stumbled blind along the winding banks of the Rio Grande.
When my eyes cleared, I stood agape, watching you walking toward me,
with promises on your lips, amidst forests of Carolina pine,
your whispered words blending with the rustle of needle and cone
“I love you and will not leave you again”.
I believed you and, for a moment, it seemed I woke to a dream.
“We’re a team”, you’d say, clasping hands.
A home and memories. Journeys and adventures.
Your smile while we sat at the seashore.
Your laughter like so many bells tinkling in my ears
Cast a spell on my soul, and I believed it all was real.
Even the pitter and patter of little feet came,
with the promise of more to come for us if we stayed true
echoing in my ear like the cry of the katydids in summer.
And you wonder why it is hard to watch you go away again,
As you rise like Elijah on the chariot of fire
Rise out of this world with its passing seasons
Rise out of that body I yearn still to embrace
Rise upon your own ocean waves of undying life
whitecresting far above
your still and breathless form
Which you laid aside like your empty robe and stole
I blessed as it reclined up the church altar
Your own mantle which I handed to one of your many Elishas
Who like me, stand dumbfounded
At the sight of you leaving me again.
I remember a man I once longed to be
when I was just a boy who said to me
that love was like a bird of summer.
“Don’t hold it too tight. If you do, it smothers and dies.
Set it free.
Let it go and it will fly.
If it soars away, don’t sorrow.
If it is yours truly it will return.
If not, let it be.
It was never yours to begin with.”
Words so pretty I believed.
But now I wonder.
He left out that small print
I feel I’m facing.
He didn’t mention the returning bird
outgrowing you and taking flight again.
Now that you have spread your wings,
will it mean the springtime we shared
is just some silent memory
or worse yet a desert mirage amidst the cactus rose
destined now to fade in the cool evening air?
Is our friendship, romance, we both had longed for
now but some haunting memory I now must shake?
Once it seemed his sage words proved true
with no footnote to cross them out,
my darkening feelings at your going
just some specter of old fear
when you like the bird in the story
did return, dreaming again with me the dream of “we”
Is it any surprise that I could not help but wonder
when I saw your health begin to slide,
your legs begin to falter
Why, when our times wandering were done
And all our dreams begin to become reality
Why despite our best wishes did it seem you must still be going
your body opened wide its gates
to set your soul free from its cage
so you could soar away,
to that land of no returning.
Like rain in the desert sweeping away the sand
tears fall heavy this day as I say to whomever will hear:
It is not now, nor will ever be then,
easy watching you go.