Crawling Through the Grass of Grief

A Poem by John Lee


As I crawled through the tall

grass of grief I saw so many

interesting and disquieting things.

 

The priest asks us to bend our knees

and pray but doesn’t he mean crawl?

 

Crawling makes us indistinguishable

from nearly eight or ninety percent of life.

 

Ants crawled right by me yesterday

on their way to work.

 

Ants don’t take off Christmas Day

anymore; they used to when they were pagans.

 

Beetles crawled over me as I

wept my way through the tall grass of grief.

 

I heard one say “that is the first human

I’ve seen here in a long time.”

 

“Yeah,” said his partner, or wife, or son.

It is hard to tell who is whom in the beetle world.

 

“Most just go down as far as a bending

knee asking the new God to bring back whatever was lost.”

Over-Anxious

from

The Flying Boy Letters: Responses and Replies 30 Years Later

Letter # 31

June 29, 1990

White Bear Lake, Minnesota

Dear John:

I just finished reading I Don’t Want to Be Alone. As usual, I was so anxious for help that I only read the last half. I’m inspired. It was exactly what I needed. Now, the work begins. I want the end result so bad. I hate codependency. Yesterday when I heard my dad’s voice, I felt angry again even though I’ve forgiven him.

As my lover sleeps and I think of the emotional abuse of each and every day, my heart saddens for my child within me. She’s been hurting for 43 years. It’s time to care for her now. Your book will help me do that as I re-read and follow through.

I must tell you that as I once again walked directly to the self-help book section at the bookstore, your title jumped out at me. I picked it up, read the back cover, then I looked at your picture to surmise whether or not your face “looked” full of wisdom, or at least whether it “looked” like you had more info than I. It was the first time I ever threw the book back on the shelf as fast as I could. All of a sudden, it felt like a tornado inside my head. Why did I react so intensely with that book? This is where guilt took over. I “scarefully” picked it up again. “Hum,” I thought, “maybe it’s time to face reality.” 

I’m sure I’m ready, but I’m scared to follow through. I pray that I can learn quickly. I need to heal and I’m over-anxious now that I’ve read your book.

Thank you for getting me started.

Sincerely,

I’m Over-Anxious Joan

January, 2017

Dear I’m Over-Anxious:

I’m glad you found I Don’t Want to Be Alone (Flying Boy II), my second book with Health Communications, Inc. Like many of us who know anxiety all too well, you started in the middle just so you could hurry up and get to the end of the book to see how things turned out for Lucy and I.

You say in your letter that when you heard your dad’s voice, you felt angry again, even though you’ve forgiven him.

Well, by now you probably have, but you probably hadn’t when you wrote this letter nearly 30 years ago. Let me explain what I mean. As a counselor and rogue therapist, I have asked hundreds of clients and workshop participants: “Have you ever forgiven a parent or spouse?” The answer runs something like this: “Oh, thousands of time;” “Many times;” “I have to forgive them every day;” and so on.

See, most of us were taught we were supposed to forgive people without walking through the door into the anger room. We were also taught and told nice girls didn’t get angry, or that anger was a negative emotion, or that we’re not really feeling anger at all—that “anger” is just fear, sadness, and abandonment that has been covered up. So we become prematurely nice—not authentically nice—because we are holding on to so much anger. I realized that until I felt my feelings of anger, frustration, and disappointment, I couldn’t fully forgive anyone.

I would say, and still say to the people I work with, “Why don’t you feel your anger, experience it, express it, and get to real forgiveness just once and finally?” Then, once your anger has been appropriately expressed, you are able to interact with that person in the present, even a parent or lover, and you are feeling a primary emotion (not a secondary one as most therapists have been taught) and you will not unload the ancient baggage of the past on to someone in the present.

Now here is one more thought about anger before I go to other parts of your letter. Many men and women don’t want to let go of their anger at someone because anger is the only fine thread or coarse rope that we use to stay connected. We are afraid if we let go of our anger, we will watch them or us just drift off into space.

The truth is that if we’re still using unfelt, unexpressed anger as connecting devices, we’re only creating an illusion of connection. Forgiveness, and perhaps love, build a much stronger bridge to people than the frayed rope of anger.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are such egregious abuses that some have experienced that may not ever be forgiven, and that is right in its own way.

Remember this: anger is for getting out of stuck places, i.e. jobs, marriages, families, etc., and grief is for having been in a stuck place for so long.

I love how you said: “…once again I walked directly to the self-help section at the bookstore”—I tried to put up a tent in that section years ago because I wanted to live in the self-help aisle for the rest of my life.  “…and your title jumped out at me. I picked it up, read the back cover… It was the first time I ever threw the book back on the shelf as fast as I could… I carefully picked it up again. ‘Hum,’ I thought, maybe it’s time to face reality.”

 

This reminds me of the time a woman who attended a workshop of mine years ago said she would like to show me a copy of The Flying Boy.

When she handed it to me, it was in 2 halves, torn right through the middle. She said, “This is the copy I gave to my husband five years ago. He immediately looked at and read the back cover, and then took it out to his workshop where he took a saw and cut it in half.” I understood immediately, and then she reached in her bag and pulled out another whole intact copy and said, “This is a copy he bought for himself and wants you to sign it.”

Thank you for writing,

JOHN