On Breaking Open


When my older daughter read the love room letters, she cried. She kept telling me how sorry she was, that I had suffered so much and she hadn’t known.

I was a little surprised at her reaction. For, even though the loss was wrenching, the love room with my aunt felt like such a great and stunning gift. I never regretted the experience. In fact, I was grateful for it. For over three years, I lived in the ragged territory of being so acutely alive. Not only was the grief acute; everything was acute. The beauty around me, the natural world, the smallest kindnesses from friends, the reintroduction to family, the impossible mystery within which we all live – were intimate and irrefutable. Grief ripped everything into luminous shreds.

Not only was I broken, I was broken open. Loss ripped a hole in the monotony of the daily grind, to wake me up. I entered into an intimacy with the primal paradox of life: we live our wondrous, quirky lives within the confines of death. I loved the Mystery. I loved the deep questions that tore me up. I loved the lingering presence of my aunt. In grieving her, I lived more fully in the impossible truth of existence. Here, and then gone. Joy, and pain. In following the trail of the love room letters, I was tracking down what I needed most – a wrenching realness that fed the depths of my whole being, even in the midst of the shocking wreck of death.

The following is an excerpt from Year 3 of the letters. It was written following the bombing at the Boston Marathon, and describes that experience of both suffering and wonder.


Today, the Boston Marathon bombing.

People are broken in the streets. The world is shuddering. You are forever gone. And still—sun shines, a muskrat slides under the surface of the pond, new leaves have the courage to sprout.

Everything falters; everything thrives. Love breaks, and breaks open. I am wonder and fear, joy and rage, tears and hollowness and lush, ripe fruit. I am both brought to my knees, and racing toward a future as if it were sure.

Oh, how much there is to hold in our shaky hearts. Oh, how our love room with life is both warm and buffeted, shocking and sure. Oh, from wherever you are, show me how to bear all this, for I am a prisoner of irrepressible love for the world, crushed by care that tears me apart.

May we find mercy. May we bow down at the altar of life. May it be so.

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