This Father's day weekend I have been sitting in the garden, empty. The weather has been wonderfully cooperative for those having feasts and outdoor barbeques, and the noise of celebration drifts over into our garden where I sit. Kleine Hoffnung, little hope, is the German idiom for being with child, and this weekend we have lost another little hope in the early stages. It is, for us, a day for crying together, but also for pondering together the greening power of nature. Creation brings beautiful abundance and also an abundance of loss; not every bud becomes a flower. To participate in the beauty is also to risk the loss.
I called my father, of course, and wished him a happy father's day. They too had the grill out and steaks were cooking. And I did not mention the sadness we felt. It was too awkward to do so on such a festive day. And perhaps it is too awkward to do so on a blog that unknown others will read. But I want to muse on this emptiness for those who also feel loss on this day officially set aside for joy, respect, gratitude, and barbeque.
Grief on a day of celebration is not unusual, though we are shy to speak of it. We feel our losses more keenly on days when happiness surrounds us. And a day like father's day pulls at a central component in the web of relationship in family. Losing a father, a child, or a wife, breaks those cords of relation, of hope, and leaves an empty place at the table, even if it is unspoken. A place that is regularly evident and for which we do not usually need an annual reminder.
What consolation is there, then, every year on Father's day? Or on any of those other days that our beloved comes to mind? My wife Almut suggested I take some time this afternoon to read my favorite poet, Rumi and see what he might offer. Bless her, and her knowledge of my ways, for Rumi is a poet of great power and wisdom. Scanning through selections of Rumi on love and loss, I found this piece about how a true friend treats you:
"A friend is the one who beheads you.
A swindler puts a hat on your head.
A host who pampers you becomes your burden.
The Friend deprives you of yourself."
False friends pamper us. But the true friend may make us suffer and thus open us up for deeper experience. Almut spoke of this process at our last cloister seminar, that suffering has the power to change us, if we can learn letting go, can manage to see it anew. I had only ever thought of our kleine Hoffnung as a hope, as our hope. But Rumi's poem broke me open to gratitude. Even as small and helpless as this child was, here was a gift our child could offer me on Father's day - by leaving to break my heart, to deprive me of myself, to open me up to gratitude.
I can begin to see father's day as a reminder of the courage and vulnerability of those lovers who risk love and in the process risk hurt. Each risk is different, peculiar in its own way, and brings its own sorrow and joy, great or small. These are the gifts we give each other as family and friends and the risks we take.
So yes, let's celebrate Father's day. I have received a wonderful present. Far better than a necktie to hold things together, I have been broken apart and opened up to gratitude.