The Practice of Poignancy

The Practice of Poignancy

Today, May 31, 2021, the last Monday in May, is celebrated as Memorial Day in the United States. 

Poignant, that the meaning of a holiday, begun in 1868 to honor the men and women who died in military service for this country, has come, for many of us, to signal the unofficial beginning of summer; a release from school and winter weather into a time of play and rejuvenation. The memory of grievous losses fading into the background, except for those most affected. 

Poignant, that as more and more people around the world are vaccinated against the coronavirus and we are slowly emerging from more than a year of shutdown, the memory of 3.5 million deaths worldwide in one pandemic year, 592,000 in the United States as of this writing (more than soldiers who died in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined) may also be fading into the background, except for those most affected.  

Poignant, that on May 25, 2021, we passed the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd that brought the Black Lives Matter movement to everyone’s attention front and center last summer. The reality of police brutality may also be fading into the background, except for those most affected.

I’m as happy as the next person that restaurants and theaters and gyms are now opening up again, at least in my home county that has an 83% completed vaccination rate, that I can hug friends who are also double vaxxed, that I have reserved a campsite at Lassen National Park this summer. But we still have spiking rates of new cases of COVID-19 in other countries. That is not likely to fade into the background any time soon, for we are all still affected.

Poignant. “Touching, deeply affecting” is the second definition of poignancy in my Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, but “painfully affecting the feelings” is the first, from the medieval French “to prick or sting.”  

Poignancy has been such a major practice for me throughout this pandemic year; honoring loss and grief even as my spirit begins to soar again in joy. 


We practice poignancy any time we remember, acknowledge, honor and let ourselves feel the reality that sorrow and joy are inextricably intertwined in this life. We celebrate the aliveness of being alive while we are alive to celebrate it, knowing that one day we won’t be, a loved one won’t be, even people we don’t know but are connected to in this vast web of life someday won’t be. Poignancy is an awareness, and acceptance, of the dance of life, even when it pricks and stings. 

As noted in this poignant poem by Jane Kenyon, written just months before she died of leukemia…


By Jane Kenyon (1947-1995)

I got out of bed on two strong legs.

It might have been otherwise. 

I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe flawless peach. 

It might have been otherwise. 

I took the dog uphill to the birch wood.  

All morning I did the work I love. 

At noon I lay down with my mate. 

It might have been otherwise. 

We ate dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks. 

It might have been otherwise. 

I slept in a bed in a room with paintings on the walls, 

and planned another day just like this day.  

But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.