Civil War—CoronaLife Day 369

In the year 1292, Scotland had a problem: it had no direct heir to the throne. There were multiple claimants, but how to choose between them? King Edward I of England, who desired to claim Scotland as his own, kindly offered to choose between the claimants, and promptly chose the one who would swear fealty to him, making Edward overlord of both England and Scotland, with Scotland in the subservient condition.

This caused more problems. King John Balliol, Edward’s pick, was disliked by a large portion of the population because they were furious that Scotland had been handed to her hereditary enemy. But Scotland was full of Anglo-Norman nobles, who held land in both countries and therefore wanted the merger. So a double war broke out.

The Scottish Wars of Independence, headed first by William Wallace, then by the future King Robert the Bruce, mirrored America’s Revolution in many ways. But it also held a second war inside the first, because the nobles who wanted England to rule were also fighting the Scottish armies who were fighting for their freedom. Many a noble family was torn apart by these wars. Robert Bruce himself fought WITH the English before finally switching to the Scottish side and rising to King. Within noble families, father and son often fought on opposite sides, such as the Earl of Strathearn fighting with Edward of England and getting captured in battle by his own son. Which was lucky for the Earl, since his son begged mercy for his father of Robert Bruce and thus saved his father’s life.

Scotland won her freedom, although she did eventually merge with England when the Scottish King James the VI inherited the throne of England to become King James I of England in 1603. Today, Scotland is semi-autonomous, with its own Parliament, and a movement is growing to vote to break from England completely. This time, any break with England will be significantly less bloody, and hopefully peaceful, leaving families intact.

We in America have heard of the family fractures in our Civil War, with brother fighting against brother. Like Scotland and England, the warring sides came together afterwards.

The past 4 years, with Trump in office, we have seen the outbreak of civil strife again. Families once again fractured, and old national scars burst wide open. I have to wonder if, unlike Scotland and England, we never did really heal from the Civil War, and instead just buried the old resentments to fester. The same questions seem to be raised now as then: Who holds the power in America? When it says “We the people,” does it mean the rich, or all of us? What does freedom mean in America? When it says “all men are created equal” exactly which men does it mean? The questions of justice and equality and equity are as stark now as they were in 1861, even if the context looks different.

I admit that some days the American divide depresses me. I so clearly see two Americas inside the same borders, and I despair that we can live together, the ideas held are so different. But other days, I read history and I see the bloody conflicts that tore countries and families apart, and see eventual peace and hope. Maybe, someday, historians will look back at this epoch of American life and be able to say that our country managed to heal and move forward together, knitting the wounds closed once and for all.

The story of whether we remain the United States, or whether we evolve peacefully into separate but allied nations is yet unwritten. We each have our part in history to play. Choose your path wisely.

The future is watching us.

Musings on Grief and Comfort

“Words fail me.” This saying has proven true several times in my life, usually when confronted with an extreme emotion—particularly grief.

Grief is Universal

Grief is a primal and universal emotion—it has existed for all of mankind’s history, in every corner of the Earth. Some cultures still invoke grief rituals involving keening or wailing or rending of garments, and sometimes I think these are the truest demonstrations of an emotion that comes from our deepest selves and predates our use of words.

Yet we do use words to express grief. It may seem strange that as a writer I find words oddly fragile in the face of this emotion. We say things like “I’m sorry for your loss” and “My condolences”,  and we mean them with all of our being. They are only a pale reflection of what we want to express, yet we understand them to speak much more than the flimsy words convey, and accept the true depth of feeling behind the words.

Grieving is Specific

While grief itself is universal, the process of grieving is specific to the individual. Some people grieve openly and loudly; some crawl away and sob in the dark. Some throw themselves deeper into living; others withdraw from life. Some need to talk their grief away; others hold it deep inside. Some need the comfort of people around them; others need quiet to find peace. Some recover from grief quickly; others wrestle for many years. There is no one right way to grieve—each person must make the journey through grief in their own way.

Comfort is also found in places unique to the individual. Some find it in the arms of others, while some find it in the solitude of nature. Some find it in the bustle of life, while others find it in the stillness of home. Some find it in religion, others in memories of loved ones, still others in music or art. I know in times of grief I take comfort in a frenzy of organizing and cleaning, a metaphorical attempt to regain a sense of control and make sense of my inner turmoil.

Grief is for the Living

One truism of grief is that funerals are not for the dead—they are for the living. We cannot truly mourn the deceased. After all, we would not mourn their life—since we loved them—yet we also cannot mourn their death, either. Almost everyone, whether you believe in an afterlife or believe there is nothing after death, will agree that the departed person is beyond the reach of pain, suffering, and the other cares of this world. So we gather not to mourn them, but to mourn the light that no longer shines in our life, to seek ways to fill the hole where our loved one used to be. Grief is for the living, and funeral services are where those of us left behind begin to find comfort and healing.

I saw many expressions of both grief and comfort this past week at a relative’s funeral, but there is one that has etched itself indelibly on my soul.

After the funeral service, we adjourned to a rural mountain cemetery, one of those places where the sky meets the earth and heaven seems but a step away from where you stand. We gathered around the grave as generations of mourners had done before us on that peaceful hill. The preacher began to sing. I don’t remember the words, but they are irrelevant, for just as grief is from a time before words, so is comfort.

The preacher’s strong, raspy voice rolled across the cemetery, washing grief away and flinging it defiantly to the sky and the hills. And the mountains caught our grief and echoed comfort back to us, as the ancient earth assured us that the deepest stab of grief is temporary, while the powerful bond of our love is eternal.

A place where grief finds peace




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