I came across this quote the other day: "I want this hardened arm to stop dragging a cherished image." I eventually found the source, a poem by Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891):
Working PeopleO that warm February morning!
The untimely south came
to stir up our absurd paupers' memories,
our young distress.
Henrika had on a brown
and white checked cotton skirt
which must have been worn in the last century,
a bonnet with ribbons and a silk scarf.
It was much sadder than any mourning.
We were taking a stroll in the suburbs.
The weather was overcast
and that wind from the south
excited all the evil odors of the desolate
garden and the dried fields.
It did not seem to weary my wife as it did me.
In a puddle left by the rains of the preceding month,
on a fairly high path,
she called my attention to some very little fishes.
The city with its smoke and its factory noises
followed us far out along the roads.
O other world, habituation
blessed by sky and shade!
The south brought black miserable memories
of my childhood, my summer despairs,
the horrible quantity of strength
and of knowledge that fate has always kept from me.
No! we will not spend the summer
in this avaricious country
where we shall never be anything
but affianced orphans.
I want this hardened arm
to stop dragging a cherished image.
This poem, particularly this last line, touched me profoundly. It brought to sharp focus the losses and grief in my life. Grief is an emotional (anger, depression, resentment, relief, guilt, acceptance, and so many others) and behavioral (the possibility of being more reactive, lethargic, vigilant, clumsy, forgetful) process. Grief is also a very spiritual process.
When someone in your life dies, you question your beliefs, not just belief in a god, but many of your beliefs about life. Loss can be a severe shock to the system, and when it is, one's core values can come into question. Sometimes the shock of loss can be transformational, giving the person an opportunity to transcend themselves, to find a deeper understanding of themselves and the world, or to forcibly jar the person out of a rut they did not realize they were in (the routine and mundane that life can sometimes offer). The shock from a loss can also paralyze a person with fear, fear that nothing will be stable in their lives or fear that they are unable to discern what is really important. A person in shock might ask themselves, “What can I hold on to? What is meaningful in my life?”
As part of our grief, we hold onto cherished images of what was important to us. Grief is natural, important, necessary. But, too often, grief can become “a hardened arm,” unable to hold our memories gently, loosely, so that some healing light may pierce through the darkness of our grief. Held tightly, the memory of a parent who was always there to help us might keep us from realizing that we can manage life without them. Held loosely, the memory of a parent who helped anyone who crossed their path might flower in our life, perhaps affirming the value/importance of helping others, resulting in our volunteering at a food bank or helping homeless families find housing.
I, like Rimbaud, want to “stop dragging a cherished image.” Instead, I want to lift that cherished image before me, to let its beacon light the paths before me, to show me the puddles where “the very little fishes” swim with new life.