Such a secret place

A place of countless tears: Drew contemplates Dachau, August 2005.

A place of countless tears: Drew contemplates Dachau, August 2005.

“I did not know what to say to him. I felt awkward and blundering. I did not know how I could reach him, where I could overtake him and go hand in hand with him once more. It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Whether or not one is alone, grief is a solitary experience. Very few are comfortable with being present in someone else’s sorrow. Words fall short; actions seem inadequate or misguided, and it is all too easy to withdraw from bearing witness to great suffering, not least because the stark reality of mortality erodes complacent illusions of control and well-being.

Just when connection is needed most, people mired in heartbreak tend to withdraw from others as well, doubling the gap that already confounds. Pride, despair or fear of painful rejection stymie any requests for practical help or emotional support which might give others a map for offering the assistance they desperately want to provide.

Yet there are determined souls who manage to meet each other across this yawning gap. There are those who risk failure or rejection to reach forth, feebly or fiercely, to connect despite the obstacles. Like a life preserver tossed into the darkness of a stormy sea, an act of solace may reach a person drowning in anguish and fear. No miracles take place; no dramatic resolution calms the storm or lights the sky, but in the cumulative power of even the smallest acts of hope and love, one may grasp the hand of another and be pulled toward gradual healing and survival.

The land of tears is indeed a secret place, but not impenetrable or impervious. I’ll meet you there.

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Julia,
    Great post from the past when I’m sure you were being challenged.
    Loss and defeat require a retreat for a time. To replenish and sort things out. It always requires time. The one going through it often is reluctant to have visitors and the concerned are reluctant to visit for most likely the same underlying reason. The best friend and most welcomed comes not with some wisdom or well-meaning advice, but simply as a silent presence letting you know you are remembered and loved.

    • Alan, this is so true. I hope we will all keep this in mind when we encounter the pain and suffering of others. Here’s a great quote from the book Becoming Duchess Goldblatt by Anonymous (the person who created this wonderful fictional character on Twitter has remained unknown, by her own choice). Here’s the quote, in which she describes learning about the heartbreak of a friend:

      “I can feel her grief from across the country. There once was a time when that overwhelming grief in someone else would have panicked me. But because I know what it is to mourn, I can feel that darkness gathering in someone else’s heart. It would have been unbearable to me to sit still with it. Once upon a time, I would have run away. But now I know I can hold her peacefully within my heart and still have room left over. If this is the result of my own sorrow– an enlarged capacity; the ability to contain heartbreak not my own– if this was the deal, then it’s acceptable to me.”

      I identified with this quote so strongly that I marked it, thinking maybe I would use it in a new post someday. There were so, so, so many who could not sit still with my grief. But then there were others who could. Thanks for being one of them! ❤

      • You are welcome, Julia. Humbled to be considered so and quite understand that the pain of grief strikes us all equally, if not for the same reason. But is one of the great truths that we all have in common and in that needs to be respected.

  2. Just reading this short quote from “The Little Prince” and contemplating the photo of Drew at Dachou is enough to start me tearing up.
    Crying is supposed to release endorphins, isn’t it? If so, by crying, perhaps we are starting to heal ourselves?
    Roman’s 12:15 says to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” That’s probably good advice even if merely for the fact that if you’re weeping, it’s harder to say something stupid or insensitive.
    Personally, I prefer to be alone, if I’m crying.

    • Remember that Jesus himself wept, even though he knew that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. It took me years to understand that his tears were probably over something much larger than the death of his friend.

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