Rosenblatt and Spong discuss grief, ‘Kayak Morning’

Chautauquans listen to Roger Rosenblatt and Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong exchange views of grief and absence during an hour-long discussion held in the Hall of Philosophy Monday afternoon. Photo by Lauren Rock.

Spong discusses with Rosenblatt the overall feeling of absence, and how that feeling won’t ever completely go away. Photo by Lauren Rock.

Rosenblatt discusses his book, Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats, which chronicles his effort to navigate his emotions after losing his daughter, Amy. Photo by Lauren Rock.

Leah Harrison | Staff Writer

At 4 p.m. Monday afternoon, writer Roger Rosenblatt and retired Bishop John Shelby Spong gathered in the Hall of Philosophy to discuss Rosenblatt’s new book, Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats.

His second book on grief, Kayak Morning chronicles Rosenblatt’s effort to navigate his emotions after losing his daughter, Amy. Two and a half years after her death, Rosenblatt took up kayaking, finding a man alone in a boat to be an apt metaphor for his experience.

The book consists of short entries — conversations, accounts, definitions, words for Amy. In a dialogue with his therapist, Rosenblatt defines his pursuit.

“What do you want?” she said.

“I want out.”

“What do you really want?”

“I want her back.”

“Well,” she said, “you’ll have to find a way to get her back.”

Sherra Babcock, director of the Department of Education, introduced Rosenblatt and Spong and intermittently read excerpts from Rosenblatt’s book, followed by questions about grief, writing and loss.

Spong’s experiences with grief span the personal and the professional. He endured the loss of his wife after more than a decade of mental illness and cancer treatment. As a pastor, he dealt frequently with grieving parishioners, many of whom did not receive what he felt the church should provide.

Conventional intersections of grief and faith have caused disillusionment with God or the religious community for both Spong and Rosenblatt. Spong said that religion is not what helped him with his grief.

A traditional form of prayer, for instance, was unsatisfactory for both. Spong felt more prayerful in listening to a troubled friend than in religious clichés addressed to God. Rosenblatt has not prayed since his daughter’s death.

Rosenblatt says his book is ultimately a quest with the mantra, “I want her back.” In Kayak Morning, he learns that he can get her back by recalling how much he loves her. She lives in that love.

Rosenblatt’s book concludes with resolution.

“This morning when I climbed into my kayak and headed out, I knew that I would be going nowhere, as I have been going nowhere for the past two and a half years. But my love for my daughter makes somewhere out of nowhere. In this boat, on this creek, I am moving forward, even as I am moving in circles. Amy returns in my love, alive and beautiful. I have her still.”