The carpet had tiny specks of maroon and gold that danced on the dense forest green of the hotel conference room carpet. I remember the carpet so well because my hand was on my heart and our session was being led through a guided meditation for self-compassion, and suddenly hot tears creeped out of the sides of my eyes. At the Parliament of World Religions session on meditation and compassion, co-led by a Buddhist monk and a Christian priest, we were instructed to put our hands over our hearts and to say to ourselves that we are worthy, we are loved, and that we are enough. I was cynical right up until that moment that I couldn’t pull my wet eyes away from the carpet as the two delved into their lecture about why compassion and meditation often go hand-in-hand.
In the past three years, I have lived a lot of life, but I’ve also lived through a thousand deaths. Grief has been a near and constant companion for this long, heavy season of my life. I felt it when I moved across the country two times after two seminary graduations in a year’s time. I felt it when my oncologist sat kindly on the side of my hospital bed and told me she didn’t know if what was going on was something life-altering or something life-ending. I felt it when I got overemotional about my Chaco having to be cut off as the ER doc was trying to save my pulse-less foot after I shattered my leg in a freak accident. I felt it as I watched my father, somehow quickly and slowly at the same time, slip away as we held vigil in his hospice room.
The rhythm of the waves of grief crashing the shore of my being are not unfamiliar to me, and I have gotten very good at recognizing them. On good days, I even welcome them, for they will come whether they are welcome or not, so I often choose to address them tenderly as they crash through whatever semblance of normal I have found. The reality of things falling apart just as soon as a sense of normal returns has been my home recently, and now, most everyone is here with me, too.
While, no grief is the same, and as fragile humans we will grieve the silliest of things with the same force and care that we grieve those things that are most important for us. What I have seen over the past month as it has unfolded is the rhythm of the waves of grief, continually crashing upon our communal shores. So, if I can be bold, I’ll offer this up for the common good.
Settling into the truth of where we are is key to moving through it. Or, to put it more simply, it is important to admit: I’m not okay. Time after time over the past three years I have had to admit that I wasn’t okay. That I wasn’t okay emotionally, physically, spiritually . . . grief is not a comfortable place to be, much less to be made to stand.
So, let me invite you to settle into the truth that what we are going through communally is a season unlike what many of us have ever gone through before. That when we feel like we are finally able to stand, and something (or many somethings) comes along and knocks us down again, to know that it’s important to say that you’re not okay. That things are tough in a way that we don’t know how to navigate yet; that this is not normal.
And like a canary in a grief coal mine, let me also give rise to a song of hope, of something that I have learned the good hard way that one learns something when life becomes a wave-battered beach: you may not be okay, but together we will be.
We will be okay because we will lean upon each other. We will let others be tender and kind and compassionate to us when we are unable to be so to ourselves. We will extend grace further than we once thought we could for others who we know are facing their own sort of grief waves. We will do so because the only way to survive is to let others in, and name that we are not okay, all the while holding on to the hope that someday, together we will be.