This Grief is an Arroyo

tr-aroDo you know what an arroyo is? I’m from the American Southeast, so this is something I’ve learned about only recently, over the past few years since I have gotten to travel around New Mexico and Texas. It is a streambed which doesn’t have water in it 100% of the time. So, it is an occasional river. I guess local people know the ebb and flow of these things. I would not know how to predict a flash flood.

I’ve heard a story about east coast tourists who were thrilled to find a comfy, flat spot for their tents when camping out west. In the middle of the night, they heard shouts and people freaking out and managed to get out of their tents to safety right before a huge wall of water would have pushed them down the creek bed, in a knot of pillows, tent & sleeping bags that could have drown them.

A dear friend of mine died last year. I’ve been thinking about her a lot over the past few days. As I search for a metaphor to describe the grief that has reappeared in front of me, I think of an arroyo. It is not a stream or river or an ocean, but it is as an arroyo. I think about her often. I’ve cried a lot. The thoughts in the beginning tended to be the mundane ones about stopping by to see her during the normal errands I did in the area where she worked. Now, I have to follow up those thoughts with a reminder that I cannot see her. The grief is not there 100% of the time. I saw her in person very regularly yet not very often. Often, my thoughts turn to her and I smile and move on. Sometimes, though, the same line of thinking or memories surprises me with a flashflood of tears.

Her family gave me a scarf of hers which I did not wear until this past weekend, where it saved me from an unusually cold February in Los Angeles. When I got home from that trip last night, I went through all my bags and realized I left that scarf somewhere between a 40,000-person conference, a shuttle to the airport and LAX-an impossible task to track it down. I can only comfort myself by remembering that so many things passed through her hands-donations, clothes, furniture, plants, flowers, food, and passed through her station wagons-always on their way to someone else, so I hope that scarf ends up with someone who wants and needs it, too. That’s what I’m telling myself to keep the arroyo dry, otherwise, I’m going to be out of commission for an hour today, crying over the loss of the scarf but really crying over so much loss.

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I sent this blog post to my friend, Rev. Amy Vaughan, a North Carolina poet. Within the hour, she wrote this beautiful poem. Please share all of this with anyone you know who may be grieving.  You can read another of her poems here: http://wnccumc2.tumblr.com/post/157191692511/on-waiting

Arroyo*
Amy Vaughan       February 27, 2017
*With thanks to Julie for the inspiration
That occasional river
Flash floods when 
I least expect it,
But mostly in the mundane tasks
Of daily life,
Like in the ice cream aisle 
At the grocery store,
Looking for the two-fer sale,
Like you would have,
Or when a can of purple plums
Falls hard on my foot from the pantry shelf
As if you’d pushed your favorite down
Just to make me smile.
In Texas and New Mexico, my friend tells me they call
These places of 
Occasional rivers
Arroyo,
A dangerous place to be in the middle of the night
In a tent,
When you thought the flat ground 
To be an ideal camping spot,
Until that rushing water 
Appeared and you escaped
But just barely,
From being drowned in a froth of 
Tent poles and sleeping bags.
I think my grief, too,
Is like the arroyo,
The occasional river,
Dangerous,
Unexpected,
Creeping up on me
Just when I think I am safe,
Like when I am trying to comfort someone else
On their loss, not mine,
And it is me who ends up
Weeping uncontrollably.
These arroyos,
I have learned,
Can also serve to bring
Water to desert animals,
And so I wonder if my
Grief slakes the thirst of a small
Chuckwalla lizard or a 
Clever javelina
Like compassion or
Resilience?
And, too, these
Occasional rivers are sometimes
Used as pathways,
Routes to make the going easier
When the way is dry and smooth.
Can my grief
Take me where I need to go,
If I am careful not to let it 
Drown me when 
The water rushes in?
Occasional river,
Deep arroyo of 
Grief,
School me, that I can
Drink in all that I can learn
Without drowning 
In the flood.
Amy Vaughan       February 27, 2017
*With thanks to Julie for the inspiration

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What does this have to do with St. Francis of Assisi?

St. Francis died in his early 40s. He left behind 5,000 people who looked to him as their leader. His closest companions had been with him since before his conversion. They must have grieved him for the remainder of their lives.

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2 thoughts on “This Grief is an Arroyo

  1. Dear Julie,
    Thank you for your beautiful post. I remember the arroyos in Israel, very beautiful and very dangerous if care is not taken. What a great analogy to grief, and what a tender example with grieving the death of your friend’s and now her scarf…another letting go. Consciously accepted, the flood of grief be acknowledged and let go as you remain safe and present to the present moment. Blessed be!
    Michelle

    Michelle L’Allier, osf
    Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minnesota
    Franciscan Life Center/Companioning Ministry
    Phone: 320-232-8944

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