BY JEAN TOOMER
Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,
Great, hollow, bell-like flowers,
Rumbling in the wind,
Stretching clappers to strike our ears . . .
Bitten by the sun
Dripping rain like golden honey—
And the sweet earth flying from the thunder.
It’s thundering outside and we’re under a storm watch for the weekend. It’s not even hurricane season yet! I looked for poems about storms and this one struck me, the first line in particular, “Thunder blossoms gorgeously…” It seems counter-intuitive to speak of gorgeous thunder and to use the imagery of flowers, and it gave me pause. I was reminded of one of my son Malcolm’s favorite phrases: perspective is everything.
If we apply that principle to the storms of life I wonder what might result? You might be tempted to counter, Wait, are you telling me to look on the bright side, that every cloud …yada yada yada? Well, if you put it that way it does sound trite and that’s not what I’m aiming at. I don’t think one can find beauty in every storm or every tragedy; hurricanes are dangerous and deadly and the aftermath is ugly. Loss of a loved one is profoundly, excruciatingly painful and life-changing. And yet …
After a newsworthy tragedy one often hears of heroic gestures, lives saved, donations made, foundations established. But after a loss …?
In the hospital room, when the family has let go of the hope for a cure or a miracle and I am asked to pray with them, I pray in thanksgiving. I give thanks for the life of the patient and for the many blessings – for the life they have given to their children, for the love they have both given and received, and even for the struggles that made them stronger and brought them closer to each other. These prayers don’t remove the pain of loss, or the pain of letting go, but they shine a light on the beauty in the storm, and it often changes the mood in the room as people shed tears and share smiles of remembering. After the group prayer I invite people give a personal blessing to the patient (I keep an anointing oil for that purpose) and say their final words close to his or her ears. I start the ritual and hold out the oil to each person. There are more tears and then there is silence. Then I might make an observation or ask a question about the patient and that’s when the story-telling starts. I don’t remember the stories ever being about bad times. The patient’s character traits and foibles are remembered along with their acts of love and sacrifice. There is beauty in that – beauty in the thunder, as the tears mingle with the laughter.