Your teenage daughter says, “I’m pregnant.” Your summer cabin floods. Your son gets jailed for DUI. And then stronger stressors. A virus starts; the world stops. The planet shuts down until public killings and passionate protests open it up. How do we manage?
One friend who leans toward worst case scenarios has nightmares. A yogi pal does two two-hour zoom yoga sessions a day. I write, read, walk, hike, play Scrabble for the first time in 40 years, make jigsaw puzzles that have been gathering dust. I wonder, and feel.
I’m feeling small griefs. I miss my children. I ache to talk to my Dad, gone eleven years. I yearn for the freedom of “let’s go to lunch” in the midst of lines, masks and curbside. I want hugs and freckled grandkids jumping into bed with me, in-person smiles. And I long, in greater grief, for kindness like my Dad taught (“Don’t be mean. It doesn’t matter who people are, what color they are, where they’re from. You gotta look yourself in the mirror. You gotta sleep with yourself at night.”)
Grief, that heavy gray smoke fogging up the center of the chest, is about the past; that first love who announced, “we should see other people,” that woman who has not been the friend you’d hoped, the innocence of how we thought as kids, that all possibilities existed, that people are nice. And grief is present. Now. For this wild world, for this planet in peril, for how people of color have to talk to their children about what to say and do, what not to say and do, how not to arouse anyone’s irritation or suspicion. And grief is for the future, unknowable, stepping forward into aging, failing health, fated death and the unknown fears and years ahead for Earth. Grief spans decades because inhumanity to humanity is also past (the killing of JFK, RFK, Martin Luther King, Jr), present (the murder of George Floyd and….and…) and we know, will be in the future.
But what I feel is not my grief. It is big universal grief. And when great grief grips the heart in this moment, old pain appears and grows, and we feel all unresolved griefs. We cry. We rage. Or both. Of course. Grief is anger, fury, riots. Grief is sadness, depression, “no thanks. I don’t feel like going out today.” Grief paralyzes, “I have no idea what to do.”
But people and society don’t stay stuck forever. Crushing grief, as haunting as it is, moves. Time pushes the heart along. And we begin to do what Mr. Rogers suggested, “Look for the helpers.” Maybe we see this one making sandwiches for that one in the street. Then what do we do? Maybe we listen to and learn from people who don’t look like us. Maybe we start conversations. Maybe we feel the brutality long and deeply enough to yearn to sing about beauty again. Then life being both brutal and beautiful merge into life being brutiful, a word I learned in Glennon Doyle’s writing. As the Mexican shopkeeper returns to his looted store, Asian neighbors help sweep out broken glass. Brutiful. And, now, after centuries of hearts locked down against “those others,” and after months of body-lockdown in pandemic, how do we unlock? What now? How do we act through the brutifulness of on-going grief when thoughts and prayers, when wondering and feeling, are not enough? Ljeoma Oluo, author of So You Want To Talk About Race implores, “Send money. Send a meal. Buy from Black businesses. Be useful.”