A recent college graduate decided to join the Peace Corps. He was an activist at his school. Advocating for social justice and speaking out on behalf of women’s rights, he was motivated by movements of compassion and change. The Peace Corps seemed to be the perfect place to begin his work in the world.

Assigned to a rural village in another country, he packed his bags with the good intentions of making a big difference.

Upon his arrival at his new home, he was told with absolute clarity: “You can do nothing for six months.”

This rule was hammered home several times before he boarded a bus and was driven into the wilderness of another world.

Doing nothing in the face of suffering and poverty is really difficult for an activist. Doing nothing except listening and learning from other people’s lives and experiences is not easy when your energy is urging you to move mountains. Doing nothing but hearing the truth of other people’s stories is simply hard for a mover of movements.

After the six months of being rather than doing, he was instructed to gather the folks he had met along the way into a “town meeting.” This turned into a circle of compassionate conversations about what was most important for the community moving forward.

The Peace Corps guy wanted to replace the roof on the school. After six months of watching it slowly collapse while students were learning, he knew that was the best use of his activism.

But the villagers wanted something very different. They wanted a fence built around their cemetery. They wanted to honor their loved ones who had died with a well-crafted, beautiful, protective wall.

So the Peace Corps guy used his organizing skills and resources to build a fence around the cemetery. By the time he and the villagers were finished, he had heard stories about the people who were buried in the cemetery and he had developed a deep appreciation for the grief of the community.

Honoring the people in our lives who have died might be the most important thing we can do together. Respecting the fact that our friends and neighbors who have lost someone they love may simply want to spend their money and time remembering them could be the most sacred gift we can offer. Creating places and spaces that protect memories and foster connections is a profoundly intimate way to grieve together and to allow relationships to grow after a death.

Sometimes, when someone dies, doing nothing for six months is the best way to begin grieving. Listening to our heart’s sorrows is enough. Hearing the music that keeps the relationship alive is sufficient. Smelling the clothing of the person we love is healing. Touching the chair where they sat every night is comforting.

Coming back from loss, healing through grief, has no proper time frame. Pondering what is the best way to honor the person who has died may take time. During this time, you may want to listen to the voice of your soul that suggests how you want to honor your relationship and the person you love.

When the Peace Corps guy finished building the fence and listening to the stories attached to the many lives buried in the cemetery, he asked what else he could do to help the villagers.

“We need a new roof on our school.”

Giving ourselves permission to do nothing after a loss is harder than it seems. Whether we are grieving retirement from a career, unemployment, death or relocation, doing nothing feels counterproductive in a busy world. But, this spiritual practice may create room for new possibilities and open a channel for building beautiful memories that look like something beyond our comprehension.

Perhaps your heart and soul are yearning to know what to do right now as you think about what you have lost in this last year. This is a good season to practice doing nothing as a way to allow yourself to grieve.

Eventually, you will build the roof that needs to be built. Don’t worry!


The Rev. Laura Biddle is a grief counselor with the Newburyport Counseling Group and the spiritual life coordinator and chaplain at Salem State University. She can be reached at biddlelaura4@gmail.com or through her website at www.laurabiddle.com.

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