The letting go

This has been a week for grieving.

So for me, that also means it’s been a week for seeking solace in books, grabbing hold of words strung together by poets and authors who make meaning of grief.

Classes at the University of Tulsa began on Monday. I stood in front of my first class of college freshmen at 11 a.m. that morning.

By the time I walked back to my office, I learned, along with everyone else in the English department, of the death of Dr. Joseph Kestner, a beloved English professor and esteemed Victorian and film scholar. He was 71.

Joseph Kestner taught for 36 years at the University of Tulsa.
Joseph Kestner taught for 36 years at the University of Tulsa.

I took a class with Dr. Kestner during my first semester as a grad student last fall. He was on sabbatical this semester and planned to go to Europe. I had reserved hope that I could take one more course with him before my graduation in the spring.
News of his death took my breath away.

Flash forward to Wednesday when the journalism community mourned the loss of two of its own. I learned of the deaths of Alison Parker and Adam Ward on Twitter. I watched the video. I wish I wouldn’t have.

Alison Parker and Adam Ward were shot and killed while reporting for Roanoke, Virginia's WDBJ TV.
Alison Parker and Adam Ward were shot and killed while reporting for Roanoke, Virginia’s WDBJ TV.

Parker and Ward became the 31st and 32nd journalist murdered this year on the job, according to this Poynter story.

I also recommend reading Roy Peter Clark’s response to the shooting, which can be found here.

All that to say that I had planned to blog about my first week teaching. Instead, I want to share a few poems about grieving. Both have similar last lines.

First, poem 372 by Emily Dickinson:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

Second, an excerpt of Mary Oliver’s poem, “In Blackwater Woods.”

To live in this world
you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.