May 30, 2012

Peaks and Valleys

Deuth,-Dave-colorBy David W. Deuth, CFSP
President, Weerts Funeral Home

British author G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) once noted, “One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”

Not withstanding Chesterton’s prose, mountaintop views can be positively breathtaking; mountaintop experiences arguably the same. But few ever dwell there. Mountaintop views – or experiences – for most of us, are infrequent at best and occasional at most. And, who can argue that it’s hard work to climb the mountain?

Although the mountaintop view is magnificent, as Chesterton points out, everything below registers small by comparison. And, in step with that perception, while the peak experience allows us to take in its incomparable and breathtaking panoramic vistas, it ill-affords neither the opportunity to experience nor appreciate the individual detail of the elements that comprise the scenery, the village, the wildlife or the people below.

Not surprisingly, the valley view – and valley experience – affords an inverse perspective. Being so close to the details “on the ground,” it’s fairly easy to understand how we can be so near to the trees that we fail to appreciate the wonder and magnificence of the forest. And yet, as Chesterton noted, great things can be seen from the valley: the splendid detail of nature, the blessings of relationships with others, the majesty of the mountains and the infinity of the skies.

Comparing and contrasting the two perspectives, I imagine that most, if asked, would place their loss experiences in the vernacular of the valley. So enveloped do we become in the details on the ground, that it’s difficult to cast our gaze upward and acknowledge the majesty of the mountains, the canopy of the trees or the splendor of the skies that we can see from here.

The Scriptures reference this perspective – with an important connotation – in the well-known Old Testament Psalm of Comfort, the 23rd Psalm: ”yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me…”. It is important to take pause at the Psalmist’s statement that one can walk through the valley. Helen Keller, no stranger to adversity and the valley experience herself, was known to have said from her own experience, “The only way to the other side is through.”

And so it is that the valley experience of loss – the death of someone we love – is a journey to walk through and not a destination in which to remain.

For if, in the valley, we can only muster the courage and the strength to look upward, we can begin to also take in the beauty that only the valley perspective can afford. And if, at the same time, we can embrace our grief so as to take charge of it, we can begin to plow the hard soils of walking through the valley. Then, once we are able to appreciate the valley view for what it is, we slowly become strengthened so that one day we can begin to climb the mountain – and enjoy the mountaintop vistas again.

No wonder then, that meaningful memory experiences are the gateway between the valley experience and the valley view. It’s a poignant reminder that funerals and visitations and memorial gatherings are so important when we find ourselves in the valley.

And it’s a poignant reminder that we don’t have to stay there – we can walk through the valley.

Remember Well.