Grief and joy meet in beauty

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 25, 2021

Recent flood waters have ravaged the British Columbia Lower Mainland, robbing many of homes, businesses, farms, livestock, transportation links, and sadly, even a few lives. A dike breach, in particular, had devastated parts of the city of Abbotsford, a half-hour southeast of Fort Langley, where our older son Reg lives. So, how is it that Reg could send me such a beautiful Abbotsford-facing photo, when so many were grieving?

A layer of clouds, radiant in the approaching sunset’s glow, had caught his eye. He had to pull over and get a snapshot. When I asked him how that view made him feel when so many were suffering, he responded, with permission to share his reflections with you. Reg?

LOOKING OVER FLOODED ground at a rising moon crowning sunset-glowing clouds, as I paused to capture the moment, I was reminded of the ways that grief and joy can coexist.

This is a journey I’ve been on for nearly a decade now, since my first wife passed away in February of 2012. Being widowed, I couldn’t imagine how I would ever get over the grief – and, in fact, I haven’t. Rather, it has become a permanent part of my life experience, a dimension of who I am as sure as being married was – and for the same reason. After all, the grief is the giant hole where a relationship has become unrequited. And yet I have been able to pick up and go on with life, and a key reason was my realization that grief and joy aren’t mutually exclusive.

For the first months and years, I found it so hard to accept any good thing, especially if it wouldn’t have happened had I not been bereaved. But I eventually realized that I couldn’t go on without joy, and that the grief was no more temporary than my relationship with my late wife. Rather, that relationship had changed in a way that was manifesting as pain, but while profound, did not contradict my ability to experience beauty – rather, it was an expression of an after-image of the beauty of marriage. Indeed, an aspirational hope for beauty past that will be restored when I also enter the next life.

Interestingly, that feeling of hope is very similar to what C.S. Lewis describes as joy in his autobiographical work Surprised by Joy. The anticipation of joy, even though intrinsically unfulfilled, is joy itself.

Back to the photograph, it was taken right after the worst rainstorm in B.C. history flooded much of the province, including the field in the picture, and many roads. The road I was on when I took the picture had been flooded as recently as that morning. And the beautiful clouds were right over Abbottsford, where the worst of the flooding continued.

So, I am once again reminded of grief, and of the joy that so often follows grief, but is also present even in our darkest moments as an anticipation of brighter futures, and is coexistent with the grief of loss that often continues on long after joy and beauty have once again manifested in our primary attention.

 —Reg Harbeck, Fort Langley, BC

THANK YOU, REG. As you rightly note, “the anticipation of joy, even though intrinsically unfulfilled, is joy itself.” That is my own understanding of what hope is all about. (No pun intended, though travel between Vancouver and Hope, BC had been cut off.) That kind of anticipation is certainly evident in the throngs of folks teaming up to build a better future for the Lower Mainland.


© 2021 Warren Harbeck

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