“Writing is like driving at night in a fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole drive like that.” – E.L. Doctorow
Writers or not, we are all driving in the fog right now, seeing only as far as our headlights. I have heard it said that what we are collectively feeling is grief. This resonates with me, as so many of the things I struggle with now are the same I struggle with when grieving. But I also deeply believe in the blessings of grief and that they are here, too.
The first and biggest parallel is that unsettling instinctive feeling that, if you just tried hard enough, you could put things back to how they were. It’s not rational, of course, just a diffuse sensation that rises up in that place beneath words. It rises up and we push it back down, rediscovering our loss and futility anew and flinching as the wound smarts. (I could fix it! / It can’t be fixed.) Eckhart Tolle talks about learning to “say yes to life.” In the vice of trauma, we spend so much energy unconsciously fighting what is. Every day there is a new thing to let go of, some longed-for future plan that unravels before us: a graduation, a summer gathering with extended family. There is so much discipline and inner work in simply allowing the world to be as it is. It is not a passive act, acceptance. It is a fight and a triumph.
The second parallel is the emotional free-for-all and dysregulation: experiencing such a wide range of feelings every day, each so much stronger than seemingly warranted. Earlier today, I walked by a young boy who was sobbing because his brother had hit him in the head with a football, and I felt myself involuntarily choke up as I passed him. The keening seemed to be coming from the world. Then I got home and the evening light filtering through the cherry blossoms on our tree was so impossibly beautiful that I felt overwhelmed by grace. We’re feeling everything, all of it, sometimes in the same hour. Separation dissolves until each emotion feels like an expression of the collective. The personal becomes the universal.
The third parallel is the sense of wandering, disoriented, in an unfamiliar landscape. I always think of the first stage of grief as: there is a time when you walk in darkness. Everyone wants to know: how long is this journey? When will I be in familiar territory again? What is the landmark that tells me I’m safe, that it will be ok? And of course the only answer to any of it is: just keep walking. We may not know where we are or what the future looks like, but we can have faith in what’s inside us and who we walk with. We can still harvest meaning and live with purpose.
In all of this, the good parts of grief are there, too. Being so awake, aware and vulnerable, with all our nerve endings tingling right on the surface of our skin. Being elaborately, expansively grateful for everything good, for any small gesture of kindness, for the blooming tulip, the crisp apple, the clear sky, the light sparkling on the water, the morning banter with our children. Bonding with friends, feeling kinship with strangers. Appreciating the gifts of the present with renewed attention and wonder, watching the weather, listening to nature. Understanding, at last, the preciousness of our previous freedoms. Taking nothing for granted.
In this thick fog, we will need to walk by faith. The good news is we have each other. Grief can be a lonely road, but this time around we are all living this story. We will walk this together and grow together and harvest what blessings we can find. There will be plenty! Wishing you a heart at peace.