Grief is a funny thing. It dampens your clothes until they cling to you, or, rather, hang from you, dense and hollowing. People try to teach you how to grieve when you lose a childhood pet and you watch your father bury your gerbil in the backyard, close to the row of pine trees that hang too low for you to play under—you choose not to let your parents know that you were happy it died, since you were afraid of it after it bit your sister, and you felt bad for refusing to play with it after that. You didn’t grieve.
You tasted grief when family members passed away—but it was a selfish grieving—where you’d lock yourself away in bathrooms at two in the morning so no one could see how sad you were. Grief half-steeped in pride, desperately trying at the sober age of twelve to maintain a composed exterior, so that your family would continue to think of you as mature and stable and grown-up. Somewhere along the way you were taught that crying was weakness. You learn to take every tear captive, bottling up your own secret storehouse, floodgates barred shut with desperation. But what was grief without the wailing and the sackcloth? So you sipped on grief, ashamed and unable.
You are a child. You go to school. But not for grief.
And then you become acquainted with the Man of Sorrow, but few people call Him that, fewer still the people who you abide with. You learn to smile and rejoice, whatever that means. There is a school of sorts for this, and you learn and you grow. And you hear Him called many things. You learn to know Him through your teachers—the writers and speakers and musical poets, those who you sit across from at kitchen tables and alongside in auditoriums. The people who bake you butterscotch cookies and take you to the zoo just to see the polar bears. You learn how they know Him, and you learn to know Him in those ways too.
Once every year some of the people you’ve met who know this Man, but who study at a different school… they show up with foreheads smeared grey with grief. They talk about how they can only eat fish for a while, and how their parents won’t buy sugar until the grass is green and the snow won’t come back for several months. But ashes and Lent are not a part of your school. So more than before, you learn that grief is not for you. No one is asking you to remember that you are dust as they smudge your brow. No one asks if you stopped eating chocolate this month to honor the Savior. Theirs is the Man well acquainted with grief. Yours is the One who loves you, so you should always have reason to rejoice.
Man of Sorrows, what a name; Hallelujah, what a Savior.
No one prepares you for the grief of growing up—the intangible grief of learning that your parents aren’t saints or that your favorite movies are equal parts blasphemy and gospel. The nights you lay awake, angry and confused because you learn about people that are dying—children that are dead— and you can do nothing. And you pray and you know God is good, but what does that even mean, and why can’t you be reconciled to the truth of those words. You learn about slavery and genocide, from the past and in the present. You see the selfishness and the dismissal, and the ignorance is bliss mantra in the eyes of everyone you try to talk to because you can’t hold it all to yourself and this is how you’re supposed to grieve, right? With people? But grief is uncomfortable, and people rarely grieve unless they have to. Grief is something seldom entered into by a willing and voluntary soul.
That’s when you remember, and it means the most to remember: Man of Sorrows. Oh, to be like Him. And you prayed to be. So this awakened sorrow is somehow holy— is somehow apart of your sanctification. And you look at the world with new eyes, rose color gone, glasses shattered from the rubble that fell upon you and tore at any exposed skin. You begin to understand, sorrow and love mingled. You kneel before friends who help smear your brow with the ashes that you once thought weren’t for you. You begin to see how deep and pungent the wine-red stains are on your own skin, though you’ve been cloaked with His white linen. You grieve everything.
And the world becomes your school of grief. And it is something holy.
And the world became my school of grief. And praise God, it is something holy.