Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Wasteland

This is how I've come to see it: part of grief is the Wasteland. It's a place of varying landscapes– sometimes it's dry and desolate, scoured. Sometimes it's foggy and grey. Sometimes it's turbulent, lashing with storms, flogged with lightning and hurricanes. Sometimes it's just lonely and quiet– like a dark moor surrounded by forests in the midst of distant mountains. And you sit in the center of that moor feeling the darkness all around you, straining your eyes for a light, just a glimmer to let you know that you're not the only person in this vast emptiness.

What I've realized about the Wasteland: people who have never been in it often don't understand that living there is a necessary, even good, part of grief. Why are you there? they seem to call from tropical paradises, cool sylvan settings, or refreshing oases. It looks terrible over there– come here with us. They don't seem to realize that this desolate, foggy, turbulent Wasteland is now your home. That you belong here much more than you belong in the beautiful peaceful places. That not only can you not just pack up and go, a lot of the time you don't even want to– because it's in the turbulent Wasteland that grief makes sense. Grief doesn't seem to fit into the pristine calmness of the other places. But here in the wild Wasteland it does. In the Wasteland you're free to feel and experience the thousands of things you need to feel and experience to process grief. To try to pack up and leave is to try to hold back the labor pains of grief trying to birth peace into your Wasteland.

What those in the Wasteland need is not for others to try to pull them, comfort them, or coax them out– rather we need people willing to venture into the Wasteland to sit and weep and be silent with us. This is hard. It's scary. It means those people have to be willing to be taught the ways of the Wasteland, and it means we, the inhabitants, must be willing to teach. For those going in voluntarily, it seems crazy. Why come to such a terrible place if not forced to? For those already there, there is risk– what if I teach them the ways of this place and they just run back to the old country as fast as they can?

I honestly think once you've entered the Wasteland, you're never going to go back. The country which at first was so dangerous and frightening becomes familiar, and the carefree quality of the old country begins to look shallow. You start to think that, difficult as it is to be here, and though sometimes you want nothing better than to run screaming as far and as fast as you can, you yet don't truly wish to go back. Then you realize that you'll never fit back in the country from which your grief first evicted you. It is a harsh sentence at first, except for this: there is hope that much of what is ugly in the Wasteland will eventually be transformed. The ruggedness and danger, the jagged rocks and thistles, will gradually, over time, be refined into beauty that was not possible in the old country. I have seen hints of it in my own life. I have the testimony of other inhabitants who entered this wilderness long before I did. The pristine, calm landscape of the old life is gone forever, just as the gates of Eden were barred after the first sin. But there is redemption to be found in the Wasteland beyond Eden, redemption and transformation and above all– hope, hope found on the far side of pain and grief and suffering and loss. Heaven will be greater than Eden.

“That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it" not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”         ~C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce


  1. Beautiful words, Meredith, and so true.
    They remind me of something I came across today in the book I'm reading...

    "However long the horror continued, one must not get to the stage of refusing to think about it. To shrink from direct pain was bad enough, but to shrink from vicarious pain was the ultimate cowardice. And whereas to conceal direct pain was a virtue, to conceal vicarious pain was a sin. Only by feeling it to the utmost, and by expressing it, could the rest of the world help to heal the injury which had caused it. Money, food, clothing, shelter--people could give all these and still it would not be enough: it would not absolve them from the duty of paying in full, also, the imponderable tribute of grief." (from the book "Mrs. Miniver" by Jan Struther)