An Australian friend, Cathryn Lloyd, recently sent me this cartoon by Michael Leunig. I’ve enjoyed his work since I first came across it in Melbourne 10 years ago. I’ve got several collections of his cartoons and Chris once bought me a book based on his larger artworks, which we both loved.
Unbeknownst to Chris, another friend wrote to Leuning while she was ill, asking if he would send her an original drawing. He agreed but Chris died before the plan came to fruition. So it was a double pleasure to receive this gift.
The grief adaptor is an inspired idea: when grief flows from our hearts instead of being trapped inside, it carries us through life. Leunig’s special genius is to recognise that joy functions in the same way. His insight chimes with my experience of bereavement: that I am only open to joy to the extent that I acknowledge my grief.
Somehow the heart has to expand to allow both at the same time. Leunig tells us to plug the cable into our bicycle and let our grief and joy carry us through life, he doesn’t ask us to understand them, which reminds me somewhat of Rainer Maria Rilke’s famous advice to a young poet:
And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
We all suffer loss and bereavement; we all mourn something or someone. If I have learned anything in the last two years, it is that grief and joy are inseparable aspects of the human condition.
Thank you Cathryn for sending the cartoon, and thank you Michael Leunig, for reminding us that although we cannot choose when grief and joy will appear in our lives, we can choose how to respond to them.