My youngest daughter adores pigs. What began as an obsession with Peppa Pig cartoons has grown through the years into a full-blown love affair with swine. She owns a full pig costume, complete with snout, ears, and pig slippers. She fawns over adoptable pot bellies on Petfinder.com. She sleeps in a bed invaded by an army of pig stuffies. And, of course, her favorite color is pink. “Someday,” she tells me, “I will have a pig of my own. A little pink pig I can hold in my arms.”
I’ll admit, I’ve tried to enlighten her on the less-than-appealing qualities of her beloved animal. Pigs are ornery, I tell her. Sometimes they bite. They root around in the soil and make a mess. She will not be dissuaded. I remind her that pigs aren’t actually soft. They also smell strongly. It is of no use. Where I see a stinky animal good only for bacon, my daughter perceives something more. She sees sheer loveliness. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or is it?
When I think of my daughter’s love for pigs, I am reminded of Galway Kinnell’s beautiful poem, “Saint Francis and the Sow.” In poignant language, Kinnell paints a picture of Saint Francis, lover of animals, bending to bless the lowly barnyard pig. I imagine my daughter as Kinnell writes, “Saint Francis / put his hand on the creased forehead / of the sow, and told her in words and in touch / blessings of earth on the sow.”
The result of this tender blessing? The pig, standing in her muck and mire, remembers her own loveliness. Kinnell tells us she remembers in every part of her being — “from the earthen snout” to the very babies who suckle at her teats. She is blessed. Regardless of her smell, her looks, her bristly personality. Regardless of the messy situation in which she finds herself. None of these things can change the fact that she is a creature beloved by her Maker.
I look around, almost ten months post-loss, and it’s easy for me to see a barnyard mess. My life has not turned out how I expected it to. Sometimes it feels like there’s so much mud and muck I don’t know where to start cleaning it off. I stare into the mirror and succumb to the belief that Rob’s death really was the end for me too. That everything from now will just be hanging on. That my access to a full, satisfying, beautiful world ended when I placed my husband in the grave. I look at my life and want to turn away in disgust and disappointment. What is beautiful about a widow’s life?
“Sometimes it is necessary,” writes Kinnell, “to reteach a thing its loveliness, / to put a hand on its brow … and retell it in words and in touch / it is lovely / until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing.” In grief, these are the words I need. After all that has happened, I need to be reminded, retaught, that life is — can still be — lovely. Even when its beauty seems obscured by the muck and mire of sorrow. Even when life feels directionless, random, harsh, foreboding. I want to flower again from within. I want to hear words of beauty and blessing spoken over me. I want to believe that they are true.
The night we learned Rob died, I read my children this verse from Zephaniah 3: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will rejoice over you with singing.” This verse reminds me that life is and will always be beautiful because I am beloved. Like Saint Francis’ sow, I am treasured by my Creator. He rejoices over me with singing. In the midst of all the change that grief has wrought, Rob’s death cannot change that. As I look to him, God himself will reteach me loveliness.