Sundays at Harvard-Epworth

 Communion Service at 9:00 AM In-Person &
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Grief and Despair and Getting Through

A Reflection by Nancy Pendergast

The year my father died, I read The End of Nature by Bill McKibben and I walked around in a fog of sorrow, for my father and for the natural world he taught me to love. He was a Methodist pastor, who put his faith into action; he went to hear Martin Luther King at the March on Washington and was active in protesting the Vietnam War. It seemed to make sense to honor him through taking action on my climate concerns. I committed to one action a month: signing a petition, reading a book, going to a lecture or rally. Over time, my involvement grew and now I am on the steering team of Cambridge 350, have learned how to run a meeting on Zoom, participated in mock funerals in front of fossil fuel banks, dressed like a monarch butterfly at other mock funerals, been to countless marches and rallies.

My grief for my father has become livable. I think of him as I delight in the first strawberries of June, and when I watch the sunset from my favorite spot, just like he taught me. I accept his absence; bodies are not supposed to last forever. Our Earth, though, that is harder. I expected it to be stable for my daughter’s lifetimes. Grief can subside, despair less so. For help with that, I turn to the work of Joanna Macy. She teaches the despair for the world is born of, is a mirror of, love for the world. When despair for the world becomes too deep, I walk by the ponds at Alewife, or in the woods. I pay attention to trees and flowers, spend time with people I love (we are nature, too). The love is connected to the despair, but also its respite, and action comes out of both. Again, the words of Joanna Macy, speaking of this in Christian terms, “to my understanding and experience, the cross on which Jesus died serves to dramatize that it is precisely through openness to the pain of our world, that redemption and renewal are found.”