Praise and Grief | Call and Response



Last weekend, my friend and colleague, Nico Cary, created an altar to climate grief in Los Angeles as part of a wider installation called Good Grief by The Smithsonian. I've had the chance to hear about Nico's process with the project over the past year, most recently when I had coffee with him during my travels last month. Without knowing the final form the installation would take or having the opportunity to experience the ceremony Nico was creating, the project had an unexpected impact on me. As the date of the event approached, I couldn't shake the concept from my consciousness. I wrote to Nico the day before the event: Hearing the words 'climate’ and 'grief' and 'altar' in the same sentence has transformed something in my relationship with myself and the space around me, the way I walk on the land I have been walking for years, the way I breathe the air, the way I take in the waves along the cliffs. It was as if Nico's project had issued a call to something deep inside me that longed to have a voice. The poem below is a work in progress. I know it's still in progress because even now, as I prepare this email, I find myself tinkering with words and phrases and the general order of things. I wanted to share it now as it is, because sharing anything else felt inauthentic to me. No doubt it will be slightly different tomorrow. Two synchronous sources of inspiration feel worthy of mentioning since they had such a direct influence on me as I was writing this poem. Shortly after my coffee with Nico, I picked up a book called Rooted by Lynda Lynn Haupt, which called my attention to the idea of bearing witness as a form of action and activism. I was reminded of the experiments in physics which revealed that photons change their nature when they are observed. As I was bringing this poem into form, another friend sent me a recording of a talk on Grief and Praise by Martín Prechtel, a writer and teacher with whom I was not familiar. Throughout the talk, Prechtel illuminates the ways that, in his Tzutujil Mayan culture, grief and praise are inexorably entwined. In this universe of perennial unfoldment, may we open our hearts to both praise and grief, and may we find joy and beauty in the connections we form through our open hearts.


Praise and Grief | Call and Response

by Jennifer Bloom

Let this be bigger than you.

In relationship to my relationship with Life, this prayer seems to be opening me in ways I don’t fully understand yet.

Let this be bigger than you.

In relationship to climate change, collapse, transformation, however you want to name it, this prayer gives me space to breathe, to feel, to acknowledge. I am not in control.

Let this be bigger than you.

A voice in my head cries: This is urgent! Stop making excuses! You must do something! And maybe that’s true, but I read something recently about bearing witness, which made me wonder if that could make a difference— to bear witness to this morning to setting moon, to rising sun, to lilting wind, to clouds grazing sky, to wrens nesting on the side of my house, to dog chewing a leaf, to milkweed growing through the slats of the deck, to bottlebrush drying in the planter, to mushrooms blooming on the fallen tree trunk split by lightning years ago. Half of it grows upright, the other half caresses the ground.

Let this be bigger than you.

When ice covered Texas in the February freeze, a friend told me he felt sorry for the trees. I looked out at the frozen canyon and thought, Somehow, I think the trees will be okay. Indeed, they seem to be. Humans, perhaps another story. There is a strange dissonance in looking at what I know is there but cannot see. In the mountains, a white-out landscape, a parlor trick of Mother Nature, to make a whole mountain range disappear, not with fog or snow, but a skyscape of smoke from fires to the west, reminding me of the morning I woke up to find my canyon cloaked in ice, a shimmering translucence, where the night before stood a dense sea of green. There and not there at the same time. Is this real? Is this real? Is this real? How can this be real?

Let this be bigger than you.

I’m embarrassed to admit: a part of me is filled with exhilaration, the sheer enormity of existence, the vulnerability and the persistence, the beauty and the devastation.

Let this be bigger than you.

Could it be both praise and grief to bear witness to this moment: celebrating the mountains though they are veiled by smoke. to this moment: consecrating a concrete slab at the edge of a cliff, remnants of a home that no longer exists, one massive column lying lifeless on the beach below. to this moment: dancing with the trees and the bright, chiming melody of icicle castanets.

Let this be bigger than you.

What comes next? What comes next? What comes next?

Let this be bigger than you.

When I close my eyes, birdsong fills the whole space. And the wind in the trees. And gentle chimes. A car across the road. An engine above. Call and response. Call and response. Call and response.