I don’t know where I saw it. It might have been a Harry Potter movie. Perhaps I even dreamed it. But what I saw made visual the connections that unite us, one to the other.
In my vision, those connections turned into lines of light. Some people had only thin lines linking them, in pale colours. Other people had great pulsing umbilical cords, throbbing with vitality, binding them together as if they shared a single bloodstream.
The fact that we can’t see these connections doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
There are lots of things we can’t see. Radio waves, for example. But with the right equipment, we can pick up those invisible signals and listen to music or watch television.
We can’t see radioactivity, even though it can kill us.
We can’t see, smell, or taste oxygen—although we die without it. We can’t see the gravity that keeps our planets from flying apart.
That notion of invisible connections between people helps me make sense of grief.
Someone has died; part of me has died with them. If our connection is only a thin tendril of life, I won’t feel much loss. If our connection is one of those pulsing umbilical cords, I will feel that loss as I would an amputation—the phantom limb still hurts, even though it’s no longer there. Those missing toes still itch; that arm still tries to reach for the doorknob.
We delude ourselves when we think that we stand alone. We are not separate entities, ships that pass in the night. We are a vast network of life and living.
Occasionally we glimpse this truth, through the metaphors of poetry. John Donne wrote, 400 years ago: “No man is an island entire onto itself… Each man’s death diminishes me.”
A friend, Marjorie Gibson, composed this poem as a lament for the death of her friend Elizabeth MacLeod:
I lost my friend
did I tell you?
An ache gnaws my heart, persistent, sadly reminds.
She walked early, loving
fresh crisp air.
Late afternoon for me
light warm golden
from the setting sun
late walkers with dogs.
We spoke our minds
bared our fears
In the end, no world problems solved
no personal stances altered, just
two souls lovingly understanding
For both, the end hovers in sight
the final battle cannot be won
in our hands only the skirmishes before the end
our fight to make our last days good.
Her failing heart
trivial things like that.
Then we look into one another’s eyes
sit close together
I lost a friend
did I tell you?
No one can read that lament without the sense of a connection broken, severed, gone.
Marjorie wrote “A Lament” for her own loss. But it also speaks to me, and to Ray and Muriel, to Frances, Suzanne, Mary.
The invisible umbilical cords of love and friendship that nourished us, fed us, sustained us, have been severed. We will never be as whole again.