Saturday Mourning and the Peace of Wild Things
Melissa waltzed right by the Kleenex boxes sitting on a music stand in the middle of the aisle. I hesitated. She had her hanky, but all I had was a day full of gardening and feeling pretty darn brave about Gail Ryba’s death. A brilliant, energetic, and highly effective clean-energy activist departed this world too soon, leaving behind a loving husband and a wonderful young daughter. She grew edibles in her garden; she kept bees and chickens; she even made possible the bike trail that Melissa and I had just ridden to get to her memorial service.
“Nah,” I thought as I walked on. “Tissues are for sissies.”
Unfortunately, I forgot to consider how inspiring the story of Gail’s life would be. We heard from a best friend, two close colleagues, and her two brothers. In his or her own way, each described the urgent need to intensify our struggle for a world of more bikes, solar panels, and windmills, and no more desecrations like the one going on and on and on in the Gulf of Mexico. I think I first started getting the sniffles when I realized that Gail went into hospice about the time that revolting sea-bottom oil-spew began. Gail had fought long and hard for a year-and-a-half with a very rare form of cancer, and I guess I wished she didn't have to live to see the day of such hideousness.
The spew started around the 40th Earth Day, and this will likely elevate the day’s importance during the years to come, but it might also drive some of us to despair. That’s why, it seemed to me, her brother Dave summed up the service with this poem by Wendell Berry:
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
We can use sad times to our benefit. Grief has a purpose. Despair can provide unexplainable opportunity to cherish life. Gail would want us to understand this benefit in these tough times, to find this grace of purpose and to discover the freedom that comes with the opportunity to try to live up to her high standard.