Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Give Sorrow Words

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 11•14

Give Sorrow Wordsstatue covering face

There was a shooting in a nearby high school yesterday. A student dead along with the shooter. Details are still sketchy, motives unknown. This follows shootings in Las Vegas the previous day with two police officers gunned down while they ate lunch, a felon in possession of weapons, a suicide pact.

Yesterday was bright, the sky an innocent and faraway blue. Flowers nodding everywhere. The deep greens of the city as restful as always. But, of course, it wasn’t an innocent day.

When I was growing up tragedies happened. Kids died. A boy with epilepsy drowned in the Wisconsin River when he and I were about seven. It was such a raw, hollow afternoon. The fire department arriving with a giant, ugly hook searching the depths of the wide, south-flowing river. Clusters of us on the shore, whispers and acknowledgment of the depths of water. Sun scorching down on us. A hush that lasted throughout the day even after supper when the sun melted.

My aunt’s boyfriend, a high school senior, a young man full of promise, killed on New Year’s Eve in a car accident. The next day gathering and tears. There was my aunt’s miscarriage. Another with a stillborn baby. Sorrow was no stranger, but it didn’t visit often. And it was often faraway as with the scarring assassination of President Kennedy. Besides the president’s murder, these tragedies didn’t touch us kids much, it was the adults that whispered. We were concerned with smaller matters, the neighbor kid who jumped off our porch and broke his arm; another scarred from burns in a gasoline explosion. And schools were never a crime scene.

Yesterday when I  listened to the local news, students talked about how they’d been preparing for this day since middle school. How all the drills had paid off. Once in eighth grade I glanced out into the hallway just as our principal Mr. Kretchmeyer was about to press the fire alarm for a drill. I felt a delicious thrill of knowing when our eyes met, yet still the shrill bell grabbed at my heart as we filed outdoors.

I grieve for a world with shooter-in-the school drills, where hundreds of children in Nigerian schools are kidnapped, where I worry that my beautiful granddaughters aren’t safe. Where rampages in schools and colleges and shopping malls are starting to meld into an eerie, familiar sameness.

Some days the madness that has stained and spread across this country seems so crippling and unassailable. Some days every child in this country seems much too fragile. Some days I can hardly focus because a rage burns in me; a terrible heat that needs to be quenched. When my breath is a prayer that somehow sanity will prevail. That laws will change. That background checks will actually work and gun buying loopholes closed.

Which is when I remember lines from Macbeth, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break. ” I took this advice too often back in my teens and twenties. I nursed my heartaches on the page singing along to achy laments by Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt, playing the saddest songs over and over. Too much heartache, too little laughter showed up on in my journal entries and poems for years. My sorrows were my world, a small, tight place. Now my sorrows have so much more scope, take in so much beauty and danger that I feel made of glass at times.

But I’m a writer, you’re a writer. Give sorrow words.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

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2 Comments

  1. Sharon says:

    Thank you Jessica. This is beautiful and real. So much, so much to grieve and fight not to get used to in this society. I appreciate your voice.

  2. Beautiful and powerful words, Jessica. There was a shooting in Vancouver yesterday, too, and the funeral for three RCMP officers who had been shot in NB a few days earlier. Sometimes, despite my faith, I wonder where God is in all of this. Then I remember that He created mankind not as robots but with freedom of choice, and I know He’s still here, ready to strengthen and comfort, His heart aching just as ours does.

    People create the horror and people can stop it, but the majority don’t seem willing to try, and I wonder why. Such sorrow! Thank you for the reminder to give sorrow words. It does help, doesn’t it?