Before I die
I want to find closure.

Erfurt, Germany

In Virgil’s Aeneid, the hero stands in a temple and contemplates tragedy and loss in the wake of war. Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt: “There are tears for things and mortal thoughts touch the mind.” In the centuries that followed, the words lacrimae rerum escaped the pages of this ancient poem and took on a life of their own. We find them in sermons, symphonies, and epitaphs, and we see them carved into the faces of countless memorials and tombstones. The exact meaning of lacrimae rerum continues to inspire debate among linguists and classicists, for sometimes it is translated as “tears for things,” other times as “tears of things.” Although it’s only a matter of a single letter, the distinction between for and of is crucial. And instructive.

Weeping for something implies that each of us privately mourns the loss of the things we cherish—a person or a relationship, a promise or a dream—and that we grieve alone. The tears of things, however, suggests the world weeps with us. Are we strangers in a strange land, alone in our heads with our private sorrows—or is melancholia as fundamental as the sunlight or air? The tears of things. Maybe the universe is sympathetic after all.If I squint at this phrase the right way, I can catch a glimpse of a better way that I might relate to death. Maybe the universe is sympathetic after all. Perhaps the cosmos is aware of the absurdity of our flickering lives. Seen in this light, the devastation I felt after losing my parents is no longer special or an aberration, but an intrinsic element of the world, as necessary as gravity or air.

The word weeps with us. There is powerful alchemy in this simple thought, even if it is fleeting. Lacrimae rerum can become an organizing principle, reminding us that we are surrounded by compassion while we mourn. This might be a sentimental way of thinking which relies on the romantic notion that the wind, rain, and clouds can mirror our states of mind, but it is an idea that makes me feel less alone. Sometimes this can be enough to carry someone through the dark forest of grief.


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