top nav spacer
You Are Here: Home » Articles » The Work of Mourning

The Work of Mourning

The Work of Mourning

It is hard to think of what to say on the theme of Stolen Land, Stolen Culture, Stolen Time when the country is still reeling from the bombings in Boston. At times like this, grief is natural. When something is irretrievably taken without permission, what eventually comes is mourning, if we let it come.

As Derrida writes in The Work of Mourning:

“[T]he world [is] suspended by some unique tear… reflecting disappearance itself: the world, the whole world, the world itself, for death takes from us not only some particular life within the world, some moment that belongs to us, but, each time, without limit, someone through whom the world, and first of all our own world, will have opened up….” (p. 107)

When anyone dies violently, whether in Boston, Oakland, Afghanistan, or any other place in the world, we lose the opportunity to know the world through another person. That opportunity is taken from us.

The particular circumstances of these deaths in Boston and our communal responses will be told and retold by media and politicians, repeated over and over as symbols of national victimhood, resilience, and resistance. This spin takes human suffering and removes it from mourning, attaches grief to the cause of nationalism. It takes a universal human experience—pain, suffering—and particularizes it, draws boundaries around it, saying this is our suffering. Yet we do not yet know who the they is against which we are closing ranks. And, even if we do eventually know who they are, what then? Is our grief automatically a reason for retaliation?

Like September 11, 2001, perhaps April 15, 2013 will become justification for more scapegoating, or new draconian laws that make way for a stronger security state, for increased militarization. This will make it more possible to suspect the humanity of others, and to forget that all human beings suffer, for countless reasons. This does not begin to address the reasons why someone would want to commit violence.

As it turns out, something else happened on April 15 that we can perhaps layer into our reflections. The poet William Wordsworth, while on a walk with his sister Dorothy, came upon a field of daffodils on April 15, 1802. The poem captures a moment of pure joy and stillness of mind, one that the poet returns to later when feeling sad. Perhaps we, too, can continually turn our minds to peace as we watch where the country goes after Boston.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

— William Wordsworth

Comments (2)

  • Mushim Ikeda

    From one of my Dharma students, who is a person of color marathon runner, whom I emailed to find out if they were ok: “The tragedy that unfolded yesterday was unconscionable and will have a great impact on running events. I am planning to run two marathons this autumn. . . and cannot help but wonder what changes are going to be put in place to protect runners and spectators alike.”

    This correspondence led to my remembering how, in the sixties and seventies, there were always rentable lockers in bus stations and airports, where you could leave your belongings, taking the key with you, for a modest fee, if you were on a long layover between connections. Then these lockers became places where some people left bombs that blew up, and all of the lockers disappeared. Violence and the threat of violence lead to structural changes at many levels, as a balance is sought between assuring public safety on one hand, and not becoming a locked-down police state on the other hand.

    In regard to the journey of grieving a terrible loss through the untimely death of a person, it is true, I think, that when a person dies we lose the opportunity to know the world through whatever access we are fortunate enough to gain to that person’s experience. And, to the extent that our beloveds live on in us, we can know something, perhaps. I taught literature, as a volunteer, for four years in one of the Oakland public high schools. Sometimes I gave creative writing assignments. One of my students, who had lost her boyfriend and father of their baby, to a drive-by shooting, wrote about her experience of looking at a photograph of her and her boyfriend. Now that he was gone, she reflected, “I’m the only one who can see him, because I see through his eyes.”

    Tears ran down my face when I read that sentence. It is still a sentence I remember, and quote, because I think it is so simple and profound.

  • Jeff

    and to think the mad tragedy in Boston was a splash of terror out of the planned torrent that hits the rest of the world every day

Leave a Comment

© 2012 Buddhist Peace Fellowship

Scroll to top