*Author’s Note (03/25/21)
Before highlighting this piece I wrote two years ago, I wanted to remark on the subject of rigorous grace.
I'm learning that the beauty of grace is similar to falling backward off a boat into the ocean. You can't wade in or feel it out a few inches at a time. If you touch it, you have to be immersed. My obsession with and needs for spontaneity and freedom are crucial regarding how [transformative] grace operates, especially with thwarted narratives. I'm both wrecked and inspired by how the stories we write for ourselves are always getting overturned. Sometimes they shatter, and we [continue to] wound ourselves and those around us by clinging to the shards. I think grace is the only thing that's capable of absorbing the shockwave of grief.
Grace isn't what I planned, hoped, or asked for, but it's what I've received. There’s so much tenderness and compassion in me. I don't know where they came from or how to name them; I only know how to let them flow (through). Grace only happens to me when I refuse to yield or look away from the uncomfortable things. It is the gulf between what I've been given and what I've endured.
The possibilities of grace, love, and joy have been, and will always be, what gets me out of bed when nothing else will. Grace comes to me when I kneel down to cry in the shower, and it comes to me when I'm cackling at a dumb joke at work, climbing a mountain, or dancing to a Carly Rae Jepsen song in Target.
The only things this life promises are bound to annihilate us at some point; so I hope, then, that you revel in the small joys and gratitudes of your life - whatever they may be. I encourage you to laugh, be silly, dance, and not take yourself too seriously. Mary Oliver knew what she was talking about when she said joy was not meant to be a crumb. Crumbs will not sustain our hearts.
Of course, no amount of joy is going to protect us from our or others' suffering, but it will give us the strength to endure it; and with grace - the ability to transmute it.
Here's "Thank Goodness":
You, thank goodness
were torn from the Bible the day before they burned it for the verse about dancing to tambourines [..] - Andrea Gibson
I’m an hour and a half late to a table reading Saturday afternoon due to an emergency at work; I’m here for the intention of it - but I’m more fascinated with how grief works (in others).
No, I don’t want to commune with the dead; I don’t have questions for them; I only have questions for the living. The psychic latches on to me as soon as I sit down - says I’m channeling the dead son of the woman at the opposite end of the table - he died of an overdose from his back pain medication. It’s my story, but I survived. It brings the woman and the rest of the table to tears. There are still seventeen screws in my spine, but they only hurt when it rains. There’s always been a storm in me, and like Andrea - I am rusty when I talk. We’re all making shots in the dark at some point, and this table seems to be mostly that. Even eight and half years later - if you look closely and at the right angle; you can make out the last few fading track scars just below the anterior parts of both my arms, just like the rope burn across my neck. But with enough light, even those ancient scars are turning into lifelines. Thank goodness.
My aura is three shades of green (yellowish, forest, & turquoise) with a white center. The psychic tells me to keep writing. There are ink stains on the side of my palm; it comes with being a lefty. She tells me I am a healer, and I have been touched by the hand of God (an Archangel). I don’t know who or what gripped me tightly and raised me from perdition; all I know is I did not die two times when I should have. I know I am stronger and more tender than I have ever been. I know that I am still in the process of being restored. I have never trusted anything more. I was given a life and a design for living; I’m not wasting either.
A 56-year-old woman is still drunk in a meeting on Sunday afternoon. She won’t stop broadcasting her husband’s indiscretions with other men; she goes into them with explicit detail. Interrupts others in the middle of their share; starts screaming about the videos she has on her phone from cameras she had in the house. Tells us that all her family has kicked her out: her daughter, both sisters, & her aunt. I know what both grief and hysteria look like, and it’s tragic to say - but this is bridging on madness. After the meeting, she tells/yells at Sara and me; that she wants her life back. Her husband had been unfaithful for 29 of the 30 years they were together, and she wants her old-life again? There’s no going back. There’s no unknowing this. We can’t piece lives back together that were built on neglect, abuse, or lies. We have to build new lives.
Sara, Dana, and I tell her to go home and shower and go to a meeting later that night - and one tomorrow morning. And not to drink. We’re all 20+ years younger than her, and she calls us babies. She’s right. I got clean at 25; that’s a 31-year difference. I’m 34 today, and I forget what a fucking miracle that is sometimes. I lost the desire so long ago that I don’t even remember the taste of it anymore. I don’t want any part of my old life back - not even a fraction of it. I don’t want to be remotely connected to someone who was abusive and remorseless. I don’t want resolution or catharsis; I’m not even [at the time of writing] concerned with justice. I know people pay for what they do, and they pay for it by the lives they lead. I’m just glad I got out, thank goodness.
I hold my 5-year old nephew in the kitchen while I make dinner. He tells me about his golf tournament; he drove 82 yards on his first tee. I don’t know much about golf, but I know that’s damn impressive. He lays his head on my shoulder and asks me if everyone dies. He heard me on the phone earlier when I had called a (funeral) home for visitation times. I tell him that sometimes people die because they get old or sick; sometimes, people die for no reason at all. He asks me if I’m going to die. I tell him, “Yes. But not anytime soon, kiddo.” He asks me if his mom will (my sister); I tell him, “someday - but you’ll probably be much older than I am now when that happens.” I tell him it’s a part of life; it’s something we never get used to, even as adults. He rustles my hair and says, “okay,” and I set him down to go play with the pups. He’s never had a reason not to trust me. He’s never seen me high, drunk, or suicidal, and he never will. I can say that without any fear, doubt, or hesitation. I don’t live in terror anymore, especially of what’s inside of me. Thank goodness.
I still experience waves of grief and even shame sometimes - but they don’t cascade. I’m not concerned with prolonging the pain for the sake of understanding it. I’ve learned that not everything can be mastered; some things can only be overcome. Others can only be navigated. I trust the ways in which I’ve been equipped and continue to be. I know the bad days aren’t a gauge of my overall well-being. I believe in a combination of work, waiting, intention, acceptance, and faith.
At the end of Chapter 9 in Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman discusses the process in which our trauma integrates itself into our story; but only as a part of our story - and begins to lose its vividness and even its sharpness. I can talk about what happened - when it’s necessary - without cutting myself on the edges of it. Trauma and pain aren’t the epicenters of my life anymore; they haven’t been for a long time. I’m not saying my past is boring, or the traumas and abuses I have survived and healed from are banal; I’m just not interested in them anymore.
I know David argued with the chisel.
I know he said:
“Make me softer
When those tourists come looking for a hero
I want the rain to puddle in my pores.”
Build me holy like that.
Build me holy like that.