To Help One Fainting Robin

Though Emily Dickinson was often confined to the upstairs room of her family home, her voice – and more importantly, her love – was certainly not.  Her reputation calls her a “recluse,” but I find the word a bit harsh for a lady who sent out personal letters to friends and family every day.

For those who knew her, and knew her well, she maintained a thoughtful, meaningful presence in their lives.  Is that not all that we ourselves can hope for?  In that sense, she was far less a recluse than the great deal of folks today who parade themselves in front of (to use her own words) “an admiring bog.”  “How public,” she would later write, “- like a frog!”

If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain

Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again
I shall not live in Vain.

When Emily Dickinson wrote this poem, she was already well acquainted with sorrow, with loss, with death.  And more was on its way.  “She cherished the birds that flew away,” writes one biographer, “because they always came back, unlike the endless stream of loved ones whose deaths undid her.”  But her grief was overcome (if not wholly, but in part) by her insistence on helping others with theirs, rather than getting lost in her own.

The reason I mention any of this is because grief is a keen reality here in Papua New Guinea, especially for the loss of loved ones.  Just this past week, my haus meri’s brother (not much more than 40 years old) lost his life to tuberculosis.  Though we very rarely hear of fatal TB cases in the states, it remains one of the leading causes of death here in the western Pacific.  Medicine is sometimes available, but its cost keeps it largely out of reach.  I wish I could say a cure is on its way, and the TB problem is beginning to disappear.  But I cannot.  The problem, I am told, is little better now than it was ten years ago.

What, then, is the solution?

We can hope for a cure, we can pray for a cure – we can fight the disease as much as we are able, and perhaps it will one day be defeated.  We can send money to lower the cost of medication, making it more affordable for those in need.

We can and should do all those things, and may God send more workers towards that great work.  But the soul is more important than the body, and even now there are souls in grief for people who were and are no longer.  There are sisters in grief for brothers who will play with their children no more.  There is S., my haus meri, who has lost a brother as well as friend.  What can we do for them?

Here is a letter from Ms. Dickinson to a friend whose child died of typhoid fever.  It is full of that grace and hope we most need at such a time.

Dear Friend,

I thought of you on your lonely journey, certain the hallowed heroine was gratified, though mute.  I trust you return in safety and with closer clutch for that which remains, for dying whets the grasp.
October is a mighty month, for in it little Gilbert died.  “Open the door,” was his last cry, “the boys are waiting for me.”  Quite used to his commandment, his little aunt obeyed, and still two years and many days, and he does not return.
Where makes my lark his nest?
But Corinthians’ bugle obliterates the birds’, so covering your loved heart to keep it from another shot,


The power of the Gospel, I believe, is that it admits the darkness of our world and insists on offering light nonetheless.  May those of us who know anyone who is suffering endeavor to do likewise.  If we can, as Emily Dickinson says, “ease one Life the Aching,” then we shall not live in vain.

4 thoughts on “To Help One Fainting Robin

  1. I have read and reread this post, Alan. Your insight is profound. Thank you for sharing. ~ I am sorry to hear of the loss of your haus meri’s brother. Is there a specific site where one could donate monies to aid the good people of New Guinea in the purchase of TB meds? I was completely unaware that the disease was such a serious issue there. You and all there with you remain in my daily prayers. Love…Aunt Cindie

  2. A reminder that we take our medical advantages here for granted. So, so sorry for yet another death, Alan. May God comfort her in the pain of loss. Love.

  3. Just an update – I talked with my haus meri last week and she told me that her brother’s death left his 12 year-old daughter orphaned (his wife died a few years back), so S. has taken her in. While PNG is certainly not as medically advanced as the States, the sense of family and community here is (in my estimation) far, far more robust.

    As for a place to donate towards the medical needs of PNG, you can give through the Global Aid Network ( who helps provide resources and people to help developing countries.

    Thanks for all your prayers and concerns,


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