The Orphan is a kind of archetypal figure of the melancholic mood, an image for this for the moment is the grieving process which is more than personal, which has a shared, perhaps universal, quality to it. It is a kind of code of the soul by which strangers recognize each other as fellow travelers. It is a pattern of human experience for the deep longing to be home and for the awareness that we are always on the way, that home is as much a destiny which awaits us as it is a heritage which sustains us.
To be an orphan, Saint Augustine says, relates one to God. Carl Jung's psychology of individuation makes a similar claim. For Jung this process of individuation is an ongoing incarnation of God for the sake of divine transformation. In becoming who we are called to be, we bring the Divine into the creation. In this respect, it might be proper to say that the Divine enters the world through the cracks in creation, including, and perhaps especially so, in our moments of breakdown and loss. Perhaps then, the Orphan is our God-face, the face which we wear when loss cracks open our stony hearts into wider fields of love. In these moments, the Orphan is the one who is present to the holy splendor of the ordinary, the one who sees the miracle in the simplest moment, the one who glimpses the numinous quality in the shadows of loss.
In accepting responsibility of our orphanhood, we become faithful sentinels for the passing and the flowering of the world. The Animal perishes but we, and those whom we love, die. In a curious way, then, the Orphan, the most homeless of all, is the one who appreciates the journey towards home, and who understands that this journey is marked by a fierce devotion to each moment as it presents itself.
None of us is ever promised a next moment, none of us even assured of the next breath. The Orphan knows this truth, and knowing it embraces each moment to its fullest.
What do the dead want from us? I think they ask us to go on celebrating the rhythms of life, but now in a special way. I think they ask us to become better lovers by taking notice of the dying which belongs to all life, and in the midst this raise our voices in songs of praise. This is what the Orphan can do, sing those hyms of praise and joy which flower from lament and loss.
The poet Rilke understood the simplicity of things and the appeal they lay before us:
"These things that live on departure
understand when you praise them: fleeting, they look for
rescue through something in us, the most fleeting of all". (Rilke, Duino Elegies, p. 77)
To awaken to the Orphan in our grief is the necessary precondition for hearing the lament of the world, for witnessing its dying, and perhaps, if we are lucky, assisting in its healing. The Orphan who arises in our souls from the ashes of our grief is one step in the transformation.
Earlier I said that to be an orphan relates one to the Divine. In this regard the Orphan is also the figure in our souls who, although most homeless, beckons us towards our spiritual home. Here, I think the Orphan encounters the Angel. Why the Orphan and the Angel dwell together, I don't know. But sometimes I feel they hold between them the tension of home and homelessness, which seems to lie at the root of the soul. Noel Cobb, poet and Jungian analyst says it like this: "Angels above us, around us and below us-/Did you not have to become outcasts/In order to discover your true home?" (Cobb, Hymn to the Star, p. 17)
Angels as outcasts; orphans as angels! Is the Angel a piece of us left behind, the Orphan part of ourselves? Is the Orphan in teh soul a kind of spiritual deposit of our angelic existence, a residue of that part of ourselves left behind to remind us from where we come and where we are going?
It seems to me that the mood of melancholy, which attends the Orphans' presence, could be the aftertaste of our angelic existence, or a foretaste of it, or perhaps a bit of both-a heritage and a destiny.