On Sitting in the Ash and Mourning with the World

Oregon is on fire. Ash fell from the sky last night like a blizzard. We saw the sun today, a dim ball of deepest orange through the smokey sky, and I let my kids have All the Screens and Not Wear Pants because they couldn’t play outside.

I’m sitting outside now, on my back porch where I usually watch the mountain behind our house. I’m sitting outside even though my eyes are stinging and it’s like breathing inside a campfire. I can still see the mountain, but barely. The squirrels didn’t come out today. Neither did the birds. But I did, late in the day, because somehow sitting in the eerie quiet, breathing translucent air I can taste, feels like a lament that matches the inside of me.

I wanted to write a post tonight that’s optimistic and hopeful, but swaths of Texas are under water. So are parts of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Nepal, actually, even though we don’t talk them.

I wanted to write a post tonight that’s positive and cheerful, but Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, is on its way now to countries in the Carribbean like Haiti which haven’t recovered from last year’s Hurricane Matthew, and it’s expected to make landfall in Florida this weekend.

I wanted to write a post tonight that’s uplifting, but North Korea is launching missles, and our president is threatening fire and fury and sending military orders by tweet.

I wanted to write a post tonight that shines a light in the darkness, but gender and sexual minorities are under regular, blatant, and insidious attack, so light feels a little too far, like the sun hiding in the smoke.

I wanted to write a post tonight that’s at least reassuring if it can’t be rosy, but Nazis are marching in our streets while an unbelievable number of Americans are denying racism is an issue in our country. I wanted to be positive and to assume the best, but Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients – children who through no fault of their own know only America as home and country – are falling asleep tonight afraid for their futures; yet another group of people of color who’ve watched the U.S.A. rescind our promises.

I wanted to be positive and to quickly overcome the overwhelming, cumulative sorrow of today and this month and this year — and years before that full of macro- and micro-aggressions against others, that I, in my privilege, failed to see — but, instead, I’m going to sit tonight in the ash and mourn.

I’m going to sit tonight in the ash and feel sad like it’s my job.

I’m going to sit tonight in the ash and lament like it’s OK to sit and to grieve.

I’m going to sit tonight in the ash while the night grows dark around me.

I’m going to sit tonight in the ash while the world burns, and I’m going to pray without words, because words aren’t enough.

And in case you’re sad, too — in case you, like me, need the reminder in our rush to fix the world that we can also mourn with those who mourn — you’re invited to join me. To just be quiet. To sit in the ash. And to pray and hope and wish without words.

Waving in the dark and OK with that for now,





P.S. This is a doodle by my friend, Heather España, who also prays without words:


ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
  1. […] On Sitting in the Ash and Mourning with the World […]

  2. you really can’t always be optimistic, hopeful & cheerful nor do I expect you to. That fact that you are not is why I am here, why you are real to me. That doodle is the bomb. you breathing scary air, not so much.

  3. […] For those of you who are also struggling (and my friends, according to those in my life whose work is ministry, it’s all of us), I found this helpful. […]

  4. Beautiful. I had considered myself as pretty aware, but the last few months have shown me how much I was blind to (to my shame, but also motivating me to do more and be more). Thank you.

    In addition to mourning, which is important, please also take time to write/call/fax your representatives to express your views (it’s very easy via ResistBot, a tool that’s especially great for busy/introverted types), and if able, donate to organizations that fight the isms.

  5. This was shared on my group page. Very uplifting for me infants others . Thank you !

  6. Thank-you…wonderfully written. There is great solace in ash having had the privilege to support memorial services where ashes where ritually returned to the earth and sea during the AIDS epidemic. I remember a story where a East Indian Saddhu was asked why he wears ashes on his forehead. “Ash is the physical form of light”. he answered. Indeed…

  7. Your writing is powerful and beautiful and needed.

  8. Man’s fate is but ashes, it is okay to hold them close.

    “Look, my eye has seen all this, my ear has heard and understood it.
    What you know, I also know.
    But I would speak to the almighty, and I desire to argue my case to God.” Job 13:1-3

  9. Thank you ! Your words are exactly how I feel!

  10. You wrote something heartfelt. Something that goes beyond the bound of our backyard, our sanctuary, and touches everything that is happening in other people’s backyards and sanctuaries around the world. We are one tribe in so many ways and there are rare moments, whether through ecstatic joy and escalation or sad and mournful deprivation, where we can look across our streets, our states, our countries and oceans, our worlds… and see a reflection that is all to familiar. Sometimes burdens are something we need to carry together so we can eventually find a stronger peace at the end. Thank you so much for your courage and words.

  11. This is great and all but your privilege is showing. Shining bright.

    1. I don’t understand what you’re referring to.
      Please explain.
      Honestly asking.

  12. Thank you for sharing what many of us feel, but have not found a way to say out loud.

  13. I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for days…so shocked and sad by the horror of it all. I was a teacher of minority children…many, many undocumented. Thank you for writing this because I read it and cried, and cried and cried. Crying, in times like this, is a healthier act that staying frozen. Keep the faith. The Universe has deemed it necessary for us to look at the horror of our actions and our attitudes…bringing it all to the surface so we can make some big changes in the days ahead. I affirm that better days are coming.

    1. “The Universe has deemed it necessary for us to look at the horror of our actions and our attitudes…”

      Yes. This. 100%. It’s horrific and heartbreaking and also necessary work to lose our privileged bubble. May Love win.

  14. Thank you, Beth. I’m sharing because I’m feeling this, too. Now, I will sit outside and breathe this in for as long as I can stand it…letting myself feel. And maybe write as well, because what I would normally do, when I’m feeling this sad, this overwhelmed, this hopelessness…I would normally GO TO THE FOREST!!! Sit amongst the trees next to a beautiful clear creek. Marvel at the clean, blue sky and the thousands of shades of green. Breathe the incredibly beautifully clean air, and come out feeling clearer and better and more like life will be ok.
    I hear about one place after another that is one of my favorite places I’ve done this before–on fire. I wonder what will be left when it’s all finally not burning anymore and it’s possible to go there again. I’m trying not to cry every minute of every day–so my heart and my chest tense up as I hold it in.
    May there be green, lovely, air-clearing forest again that we can all still go to.

  15. Thank you for your words that express exactly how I have been feeling.

  16. The wild Maine blueberry crop is small this year. A late and cold spring ? Yes. More rain than usual ? Yes. The real reason ? Fewer bees to pollinate the fields. In the 60’s, as a peace & love-spreading flower child, I believed we were on the edge of a precipice … I believed we had the ability to pull back . I believed always in Hope for our World.

    Today, I ache and mourn with all for our earthly losses.

    Now, I must stay true to that old Faith of mine, knowing in my heart that our journey does not end here. Hope , Faith & Love live in Eternity.

  17. We are coming to your beautiful state for vacation in a few days. Holding you all in prayer.

    1. just so you know, we are all hoping it will be raining then

  18. Glad to know I’m not the only one.

  19. Well Said Beth… you often seem to get right to the heart of how I feel… I mentioned to a friend this evening it feels like the world is ending… between the natural disasters, and being on the brink of both civil and nuclear war while a lazy person plays Russian Roulette with our politics…

    I keep praying… I keep hoping… Finally this last month I decided to do something, even a small something… But even still, I feel like I’m slogging up hill through a waist deep mudslide trying to drag me back down the hill.

    It’s nice to know that sometimes, others have no words either, and just sit, in the dark, and allow their souls to cry out into the night for those in need, and a world in chaos. I hope soon, as the storms we face blow away, we can continue to allow our souls to cry out in joy, and to also receive the peace that tells us, He is there, and he will help us rebuild, and to serve those that need us now more than ever to help them also hear His voice, and feel His peace in the aftermath of tragedy.

    1. *Crazy person.. not Lazy person…

      1. He’s also lazy. Can’t be bothered to read anything to become educated about any issues our country and the world face, and then “leads” 140 characters at a time with the same 5 vague words. Tremendous. Sad.


      2. Both. Lazy is very appropriate to describe him. Mentally lazy, academically lazy, emotionally lazy, even in his communication style (tweets? For a President? Really?)–lazy.

  20. This is exactly what I needed to read today. It’s almost like this is the permission to mourn that I was looking for. I am waving at you through the haze and smoke. Thank you for writing this.

  21. Feeling all the feelings…

  22. Hard to digest all the feelings. Hard to wrap my head and my heart around all the news. I’m making myself find the good new stories and revel in the small normalities – but sometimes, we just need to sit in the ash and mourn. Today was that day for me, too.
    Because there are no words.
    Wishing you love and light.

  23. Feeling those feelings with you, Friend. This reads so much like a meditation, a prayer in itself. Your words are haunting and soothing – a tragic, shared truth.

  24. I’m here morning with you. I’m really good at mourning. And sitting.

    I love the doodle.

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