‘The back-eddies of the flowing river reflected our tears, the drooping willows – on which we hung our harps – matched our spirits,’ describes the Israeli captives in Babylon of ancient history as they thought of home.
What is it about the fireside hearth of home, especially at this holiday time of year, that brings tears brimming like the incessant rain, causes the shoulders to droop like cherry blossoms in the spring (even beautiful trees as these are said to weep), and how is it the sound of carols are drowned of peace on earth, good will to men?
An empty place at the table, a missing child from the cradle, all pieces in place but one, forever lost, in the traditional holiday pastime puzzle.
“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, the words penned on Christmas Day, 1863, issued from a broken heart.
“In 1861, two years before writing this poem, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s personal peace was shaken when his second wife of 18 years, to whom he was very devoted, was tragically burned in a fire. Then in 1863, during the American Civil War, Longfellow’s oldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father’s blessing.”
He would be seriously wounded, and would recover, but with that as an emotional background Longfellow wrote, “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men.”
Ironically, the long-ways-from-home Israelis were mocked by their captors to sing one of their songs of home.
They refused. And instead hung their harps from the branches of the drooping willows, their tears dropping into the stream, mixing with the back-eddies, carried away by the flowing water.
Perhaps therein is our answer for how to handle grief.
Go ahead and cry.