A Burns Supper

Last night I attended a semi-traditional Burns Supper with a few dozen friends of friends who are rapidly becoming new friends of my own. I say semi-traditional only because this group goes very light on the pomp, which suits my temperament quite well. I think that is the way the Bard himself would have preferred it.

For those who are unaware of the tradition, the Burns Supper is celebrated each year to honor the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s own Bard. The formal order includes a number of toasts and addresses, and most centrally a feast featuring a haggis, which is piped into the hall, and then addressed with a reading of Burns’ To A Haggis. At this point I have to comment that a certain Geoffrey is a lucky man, because any woman who can create a haggis that I actually went back for seconds on must be able to cook anything well. Well done, Andrea.

After all the feasting and toasting, the guests are often encouraged to share a poem or song. I first considered the song ‘Ae Fond Kiss‘, but after spending over an hour on it I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to get through it. Still too soon, I guess. Instead, I had selected a poem to read:

Written Under Violent Grief

by Robert Burns

Accept the gift a friend sincere
Wad on thy worth be pressin’;
Remembrance oft may start a tear,
But oh! that tenderness forbear,
Though ‘t wad my sorrows lessen.
My morning raise sae clear and fair,
I thought sair storms wad never
Bedew the scene; but grief and care
In wildest fury hae made bare
My peace, my hope, for ever!
You think I’m glad; oh, I pay weel
For a’ the joy I borrow,
In solitude — then, then I feel
I canna to mysel’ conceal
My deeply ranklin’ sorrow.
Farewell! within thy bosom free
A sigh may whiles awaken;
A tear may wet thy laughin’ e’e,
For Scotia’s son — ance gay like thee —
Now hopeless, comfortless, forsaken!


On the first trip round the circle, I passed, thinking that the timing for that piece wasn’t right.  But as the evening progressed, I realized I didn’t want to read it for a different reason:  I thought it rude to disagree with the Bard at his birthday dinner.

In my experience with this particular violent grief,  I know that indeed

In solitude — then, then I feel
I canna to mysel’ conceal
My deeply ranklin’ sorrow.

but that sorrow is there always, it is not bought by the preceding day’s joy.

No, an evening of fellowship, poetry, story, and song is a gift that exacts little toll on the recipient. Seeing other couples growing old together is bittersweet,  but not too bitter to bear. The evening was a gift freely given and full welcome.

One other facet of the night sticks with me this morning. The group had the remains of a former leader in an urn fashioned of tankards placed on the mantle above the central fireplace throughout the evening. They were fully welcoming of the stories of Barbara’s life and her loss that I shared last night and the evening before.

A frequent refrain you hear from the widowed is that they are surrounded by people who just don’t get it. I have not experienced that at all. This is something I am immeasurably grateful for. There has been enough loss among my family and various circles of friends that everybody seems to get it. It’s still early, but nobody is expecting me to ‘get over’ this loss. You never get over this, the best you can do is learn to live with it. It’s a heavy load, but over time, you can learn to carry it. The best a friend can do is be there beside you, to help you get back up when you stumble, to wait patiently when you need rest. You don’t have to say anything, just be there.

I appreciate the potlucks, the movie nights, the monthly get-togethers, the random odd events, all of it. With the house emptying out I’m going to need it all. I really feel like I’m surrounded by people who can help me get through this in far better shape than most. I’m grateful to you all, family and friends alike, and I’m especially grateful that Barbara was the kind of person who assembled such a great group of people in the first place.

Don’t expect me to ever get to be my old self again. That guy died three months ago, along with her. He’s been shambling around like a zombie ever since. I’ve never been a fan of zombie movies, so he has to go. Please be patient while I build a new personality. The new improved me is coming.  In the mean time, wear a hard hat when in the construction zone. Renovations can be messy.

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