I don’t blame you if you can’t imagine what this is supposed to be a picture of. At first glance it may not look like much, but I see it as an image of love, loss, and grief.
It’s the stump of a holly bush that was cut down recently by the guys who rake our leaves and tidy up the property at the end of the season, a holly that sprouted at my childhood home, offspring of the huge holly tree that grew there for more than 50 years. My father, who loved that tree, died 10 years ago last June, my mother died five years ago this month, and the house was sold not long after that. Sometime during the years when all of this was drawing to a close, I dug up a seedling and brought it back to Pennsylvania, where it seemed to be thriving until the day it disappeared. I don’t know why they cut it down. They must have mistaken it for a weed, that’s all I can come up with.
And when I realized it was gone, I was nearly overcome by a mix of anger and grief.
I’m trying to let go of that anger because it’s just poison. It can’t bring back the holly, and there’d be no point to punishing the lawn crew. I don’t know what they were thinking, but I’m sure they had no idea what that thing they were hacking down actually meant to me. I could fan that hot anger into smoldering rage, but it would just burn me up from inside.
The grief, of course, is about something much larger than losing a prickly plant. It’s the bridge that joins all kinds of loss, beginning with the love that nurtured me in the beginning. It’s about the relentless letting go of things that have mattered in life, a necessity that comes more often and more insistently the older you get, as I’ve been learning lately. Best to let that grief go, too, but not right away.
I’ve been thinking about how much of this world’s pain is tied up with not knowing when to be angry, when to grieve, when to let anger and grief go, and when to share them with others.
Anger at injustice is an expression of righteousness. It can and should fuel the impulse to action. Righteous anger isn’t meant to be carried alone; it cries out to be shared.
And grief, too, is a heavy burden to carry alone. It’s easier when someone else bears it with you—not that it becomes lighter, necessarily. Grief can’t bring back the holly any more than it can bring back my old home or the people who spent their best years there, but something changes when your own deep mourning is affirmed by someone else.
So as I breathe deeply and pray to release my anger, I invite you into my grief. Let us lament, together, for all that we’ve lost. And then let it go.