Tonight I am drawn into a melancholy reverie about JP. It is the end of a long day, a new web project looms on the horizon, difficult negotiations have been the order of the day and I have spent 2 hours doing my best to hold space for a dozen grieving souls who have somehow found the courage in their darkest moment to seek help.
There was something about tonight’s meeting that really got to me, that penetrated the force field I erect around my emotions during group meetings because I can’t facilitate if I’m a sobbing mess. Perhaps it was the rawness of members who are still in the triage phase of grief, when you can barely breathe, when your nerves are on fire and the need to escape this reality is so real it scares you. Or perhaps it was the heart breaking moment when a fairly new member, racked with regret, asked why she had failed to donate her lung to her dying husband because that would have proven to him that she really loved him. Pretty soon after this, I started to secretly fall apart, in a way that I haven’t done for many years.
There was a time when all I wanted was to be free of my pain. I fixated on forward motion because every step forward meant another step away from my past, away from my pain, away from the memories of death and disease. Look ahead I told myself, because somewhere in the future, just beyond your reach, is freedom from pain. I adopted mantras and practiced meditations to find joy, to transform tragedy into a sign of Divine mercy. I worked hard, really hard to not give in to the downward spiral of guilt that leads to regret that leads to self recrimination that leads to the dark abyss of despair. I faced some awful truths about myself, looked squarely at my character flaws and finally did something about them. The road back has been long and lonely. But for the past year and a half, I’ve been proclaiming to everyone I meet that I’m in a great place, better than I ever expected, enthusiastic and grateful. I’ve held the torch high for my tribe that not only is there light at the end of the tunnel, there is a wondrous and bright future and a better You awaits if you can understand that this is a journey of self discovery. These are not just the words of a motivational speaker, they are not empty promises but realizations born from my own experience and journey.
And that all came from a pivotal moment, about fifteen months ago, when I noticed with a kind of bemused surprise, that I’d finally arrived at my long awaited future. It was shortly after moving to New York that I noticed a kind of absence of something inside. Something had shifted, something was new about my internal world. Searching through my inner being, I realized with amazement, that the missing thing was sadness. Sadness had tainted my inner world for five years and had been there so long it had become my default state. Incredibly, I realized with profound relief, this weight, this sadness was finally gone. And perhaps because I thought it might be momentary, that it wasn’t actually real, I grabbed every opportunity to tell everyone I knew that I was finally healed, I was finally happy. I had moved into the next phase of my life.
Since that moment, I have been living on a cloud, floating above the heaving mass of humanity that is New York’s rat race, rejoicing in my emotional freedom, beaming smiles of detachment upon my fellow Gothamites. I’ve reveled in this feeling without taking it for granted. I’ve made it a daily practice to acknowledge every day, that it is a gift from the Gods. But still, inside of me, a voice whined accusingly, “it’s been months since you wrote anything. How long are you going to float around up there, enjoying your joy?” I replied snippishly, “I like being happy, Hell, I deserve to be happy”. And for added reinforcement, I claimed artistic license. “I’m waiting for inspiration, for something worth writing about to emerge from my subconscious or from life itself”.
But it is clear to me now, that I’ve unconsciously created a new kind of wall to protect my hard earned joy. A wall that had begun to separate me from the other side, the dark side.
So here I sit tonight, having fallen from my golden cloud, diving into the past, the memories and reflecting on my recovery. I remember again that woman who had no idea idea what she was doing, who refused to accept that her husband was dying, who realized too late, that after 10 years together, she had never shown her husband how much she loved him. As I drown in my memories and the words flow again, something emerges that I hope to never forget.
Grief woke me up years ago, shook me to the core and forced me to make long overdue changes to my way of doing and of being. Grief masqueraded as my enemy but really, it was my benedictory friend. Grief has made me kind, and softened my heart. Grief gave me the fearlessness to sit and share another’s pain so they know at least, that they are not alone. Grief ultimately became my teacher and above all, the doorway to transcendent joy and a surrendered acceptance that in the fullness of human experience, there will never be one without the other.
Today, almost six years after JP passed, I can admit to myself quietly that during the years of JP’s illness, there was a kind of aliveness to that period, a quickening, a fast track I guess to self realization. I was more awake to the urgency of time slipping through my clutching hands, but back then it was all new. I was scared and thrust into an unknown world where nothing made sense. I reacted by doing as I always do, because activity to me, meant forward motion, away from the naked truth of life in it’s finite and fleeting moments.
But I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve learned to replace doing with being. I make time to stop and experience life. I live in the moments. I watch them pass. I stop just to notice myself noticing and I obsessively drag myself back to the present. The difference to my sense of aliveness now, is that before, the catalyst was fear and grief. Today, the catalyst is knowledge and experience. Now when I look to the future, it is with the desire to always feel invigoratingly alive, be it through pain and grief or through beauty and love and everything in between. And if I find myself back on that cloud, I hope that it will be with an emotionally open and forgiving heart, even more surrendered to Divine will and praying always for opportunities to serve and elevate all who come my way.