Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Tears of Paradise


At a weekend retreat given by Terry Tempest Williams author of Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, seventy-five writers gathered.  We came to find "refuge in change and solace in uncertainty in difficult times where the violence of hurricanes, floods and fires are the norm."  When we signed up for this retreat months ago, none of us could have known that the deadliest wildfire in California history would be blazing nearby.  Massive clouds of smoke poisoned the atmosphere for miles around us, including the air where the retreat center is located.  The smell of smoke lingered in our hair and clothes throughout the weekend. 

Terry is a writer-in-residence at Harvard Divinity School who puts into brilliant lyric prose her ethical stance toward climate change that threatens to devastate the global environment and extinguish the existence of many species including our own.  Many of us thought this retreat would be a respite from the sorrow and tragedy in our daily work, but we soon realized this is not what God had in store for us.  

We sat in concentric circles and listened to each other's stories from the school of the dead, the school of dreams and the school of roots.  We wrote in the light and we wrote in the darkness.  We gave each other the courage to be honest, to tell it real and "write it strange" if that is how it comes to us.  

Writer after writer pulled up stories of abuse, sickness, shame, sorrow, frustration and fear.  We listened with a critical consciousness, with sensitivity, compassion and deep respect for each others labor.  We were able to unravel some tangled strands of multiple tragedies and be relieved of burdens carried so long we didn't know they were there.