“I miss your blog.”
The text came through at the right moment, affirming the twitch somewhere inside of me that meant words would be coming, soon. Often, I begin to write in my head – the thoughts and phrases that strain towards birth, the cathartic purging of questions and answers and what is, for me, a spiritual exercise. It’s been churning for a few days, now.
And so, here it is.
Here I am, because sleep eludes me after the end of a long day of a now-familiar rhythm. Two months ago, my Tuesdays were long, ending late in the evening after playing music with friends. Now, we exist within the rules of pandemic, and while Tuesdays are still long and busy, nothing is the same.
Things changed drastically for me, like everyone else; but then again, hardly at all. The scenery shifted; I’m quite familiar with the view in the kitchen now, perched behind my laptop for an endless succession of Zoom meetings. My job has continued, and even gotten more complex and demanding, as we seek to find ways to connect and care for people without a building, within restrictive social distancing guidelines. In some ways, I’m settled and content; I love being home. I am grateful for the time around my husband, both of us puttering around our newly claimed workspaces, fixing things (him) and planning things (me). In some ways, this new normal has introduced good, new things. There’s a puzzle on the table; there are conversations and home-cooked meals almost every night (still, the occasional I’m not cooking; scavenge something for yourself leads to cereal or soup for dinner, but that’s rare, these days). I go for long walks; I’m reading books. I’m working and meeting and talking and listening and much of what has surrounded my days is still present.
We are still here. We need each other.
My role in life has been to facilitate connection, both in the way I live out my purpose as a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter – and in my vocation. That has not changed; in fact, it’s maximized somewhat. In spite of all that has been preempted and redirected, we are still here, and we are still human. Our needs remain. And when our worlds remain small and self-contained, navigation seems manageable.
But then there are those nights when sleep doesn’t come, when I forget that to read the news does less to inform my intellect and more to infect my fear; and the end of a long, good day that included fulfiling conversation with friends, a walk with my husband, a satisfying dinner, FaceTime with both out-of-state daughters (and my granddaughter and two “bonus” granddaughters), a newly-discovered unread Sue Monk Kidd novel on my own bookshelf, and a million other tiny moments of light, ends up tainted, because reality slips in and I find myself struggling with cognition.
I am living in two separate realities.
There is here, now; what is real for me. Work, food, home, phone calls, puzzles, Netflix, conversations, family.
And then there is out there, now; a very-present reality that includes fear and illness and death and statistics and debt and lack and scarcity and anxiety and the thrum of doom.
And it’s just hard to live in both those places at once, you know? Where I live, the virus is not prevalent (yet); under 10 cases in our county, and no one I know who is ill (yet). We are sheltered, we are relatively safe.
Except one glance at the news makes it abundantly clear; we are not safe at all.
And so I lay in bed, the dark binding and blinding the distractions, unable to reconcile the two realities. They only meet in grief, and at the end of a relatively “normal” day, I have no process to grieve before I go to bed.
So I get up and roam around the house and poke around the edges of my thoughts trying to find a way in, a way out, a handle on things, a way to shape my feelings into something manageable…and I realize that there is a word for this space where grief is an oddly familiar, slightly unwelcome resident. There is a necessary verb for a way I must position myself, a new expression of existence.
I am learning to lament, learning the art of singing a sad song, even as the melody of laughter and hope ring out.
I am learning to somehow accept this poverty of being, even while my pantry is full, and I am sheltered and warm.
I am learning to sit in the dark and accept it for what it is; to name the grief and let it be.
I am afraid to visit my parents for fear of germs, and I feel guilty because I can’t push past the fear.
My son surprisingly walks through the door, and I hesitate to throw my arms around him for fear of germs; I have never not hugged my son.
I ache to hold my granddaughter, having watched my planned week of vacation with her slip through the waning days of April without a definitive rain check.
I grieve the loss of our family vacation time together, impossible now.
I mourn the losses my niece and nephew and brother and sister-in-law endured, moving to a new city without proper goodbyes or graduations.
I dread what might be ahead, feel powerless against the unknown; I know there is pain ahead.
The wisps of this emotions are faint, but they are true. I am living daily in an adrenaline-fueled, newly created workflow that glosses over these facts, these feelings; but they are there, and they need tending to. I need space for grief.
This lamentation requires movement and space and separation; my psyche and my body know this, and they try to tell me, and they are most insistent at nightfall.
So sleep won’t come, and I toss and turn and try the couch and toss and turn some more, and then I heat up water for chamomile tea and drip some Ohio honey in the hot mixture and carry the mug to the back deck. Wrapped in a wool blanket, barefoot, I sit myself on the rough wood and breathe in cool, clean, evening air. And I look up.
Stars. Myriad stars; layers upon layers. My eyes won’t focus, and I can’t really comprehend the night sky. I have to yield to acceptance: the stars are there, and I’ll never see them all.
The trees cast deep, murky shadows against the sky. I cannot see the moon but everything is illuminated. A dog barks, incessantly, distant. Some sort of bird sings, and I wonder, What bird is awake at night? Is this a detail I should discover? Who do I ask? and I hear the muffled noise of a engine and the whoosh of wheels as a car travels down the road in front of our house, and I wonder, Who is driving around at 2AM?
I think, I should pray, and I find I have no words, so I say, Jesus. And I begin to whisper words rooted deep in my memory: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
I have everything I need.
I am learning to lament; those I have loved who have left this life, the loss of the mindless security we all enjoyed a scant eight weeks ago, the loneliness of those who are isolated and apart, the fear that grips us, the possibility of loss and separation, the end of innocence.
Undoubtedly tomorrow will bring its own lamentation; bleary eyes and exhaustion, after a late-night of contemplation. Tonight, I am holding space for the cool evening air, a million stars, a barking dog, and the invitation to be in the moment I have, and to let that be enough.