‘Tis a Fearful Thing … and other words of comfort

Mary mentioned this poem in her comment on my last post, a poem she gave me over the summer about a completely different kind of loss … so I looked it up tonight and sure enough, she did it again with finding just the perfect words! And then I got to looking at some more perfect words, that for some reason, are touching me more soothingly tonight than words have done for many weeks now. I’ll take it, I’ll take it! Here’s some of what’s helped me today:

‘Tis a Fearful Thing

‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –

to be,
And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

And a holy thing,

a holy thing
to love.

For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.

~ Judah Halevi, from the 12th Century

Then I came upon this, from one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Libby Roderick, who wrote that most beloved of all songs, “How Could Anyone,” which has had such presence and meaning in my life. Clearly, Libby was familiar with the above poem and wrote her own song with similar touching words:


Words and music by Libby Roderick

It’s a human thing, a holy thing, to love what death can take
It’s a human thing to love the thing whose loss will cause your heart to break
It’s a funny thing we can’t stop ourselves even as we wait for the final hush
It’s a human thing, a funny thing, a holy thing to love
I once loved a human being and then watched him slip away

A fist smashed through my grand design, I would sit alone and I could not pray
But sometimes on a sleepless night, silent and frozen inside my fears
The angels came and circled me and sang the song only spirit hears

Have you seen how the world moves on? Every hand we touch will go

Every face we cherish will disappear, taking everything that we used to know
But somewhere deep inside our bones we must be tied to the morning star
For knowing that our hearts will break, we love each other all the more
It’s a human thing….

And then, this one came, one I think I’ve posted before and is certainly worth another and another and another read:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye

And this final (for now) and fun one from Mark Twain:

A home without a cat —

and a well fed, well petted and properly revered cat —

may be a home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?

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5 Responses to ‘Tis a Fearful Thing … and other words of comfort

  1. Donna Ingenito says:

    I am thankful you are finding some comfort and peace in poetry, that which so often has soothed and vitalized you. Know that i am holding you close, and looking forward to doing so in person very soon. Lots of love

    • Christina says:

      There is some, albeit scant, comfort in words, but I will take it, for sure! I have come to a place of feeling grateful that I can feel all this so deeply and that I am not pushing it away.

      Lots of love right back to you — see you in two weeks! xoxo

  2. Where do you have that the first poem is by Yehudah HaLevi? I only know it from Mishkan Tefilla, where the notes say it is by Chaim Stern, if I recall correctly. I would love some more details. It has always moved me.

    • Christina says:

      Perhaps I don’t have the author correct as I researched it on the internet and found that writer listed. I agree, it certainly has always moved me, too. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Rich says:

    I’m quite certain that this was written by the Rabbi (who happened to have performed my marriage), Chaim Stern. He wrote and edited many parts of common reform prayer books.

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