The remarkable poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote more than fourteen thousand letters over the course of his life. A few years ago, an editor published a compilation of selected letters entitled, The Dark Interval: Letters on Loss, Grief, and Transformation.
Here is an excerpt from one of the letters that particularly struck me:
What you said about your honorable aunt’s passing is in line with my own feeling: that we do not have to be sad for her. But as to the influence of the death of someone near on those he leaves behind, it has long seemed to me that this ought to be no other than a higher responsibility. Does the person who passes away not leave all the things he has begun in hundreds of ways to be continued by those who outlive him, if they shared any kind of inner bond at all? In recent years I had to live through so many close experiences of death, but not one person has been taken from me without my having found the tasks around me increased. The weight of this unexplained and perhaps greatest event, which only due to a misunderstanding has gained the reputation of being arbitrary and cruel, presses us (I think increasingly) more evenly and more deeply into life and places the utmost obligations on our slowly growing strengths.
We naturally think of loss – any loss, not death alone – as deprival.
But the evocative and imaginative poet, turns around loss for us. We are made to consider: What if every loss we suffered gained for us a new obligations, new purposes, refined direction and clarity of mission in the light of the loss?
We can contemplate the loss of civility, loss of work, loss of years, loss of relationships and see if it is not the case that, apart from the dejection and deprival we may feel, that we have in fact gained from it “a higher responsibility.” We can discover that all of the things left behind or neglected in hundreds of ways have now been entrusted – ready to be taken up by us.