The Heavy/Heavenliness of Wings
grief is a thing with feathers
“There are two endless directions. In and out.”
- Agnes Martin, Writings / Schriften (Hatje Cantz Publishers, July 2, 1998)
Last night, as we were walking south on Main Street - Lindsey explained to me what brought her back to dancing - she couldn’t let someone, not even a group take away or deny her of something that beautiful and necessary. She turns to me and illustrates how modern (dance) movement can pull the grief out of your chest. I recognize the intention and purpose of her graceful act immediately. No-one can grab that weight all-at-once. Sometimes it feels like there are turtles all the way down, door-after-door. Grief isn’t infinite; it always reveals something else, but only when we’re willing to step into the next unknown. When we refuse, and cling to what’s familiar, that’s when grief becomes recursive.
I love the deliberate act of physically pulling grief and heaviness out of my chest; I’ve practiced what Lindsey taught me twice today. During lunch, I sat beneath a giant sycamore listening to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Roses” with my eyes closed and clasped both hands over my heart and pulled down. I imagined myself like Emily Dickson - out with lanterns looking for myself. There is always a moment of profound emptiness before the divine rushes in. Every void has to exist before it can be filled with something miraculous. It’s my job to let go and allow that process to happen. I know how to let go of grief, but I’m still pleading for shame to become a stranger.
Shame, at least for me, is just another word for internalized horror, disgust, and self-blame. I’m still in the process of forgiving myself for “not leaving the first time”, for being “that naive”, for being “so-easily-manipulated and gaslighted” But especially for trusting something inauthentic.
I hold myself to a standard that I don’t hold any other survivor to, which has benefited me in some ways, but also inhibited grace‘s work. I’m learning how to get out of my own way (progress) - and be willing for any and every transformation to take place.
I used to believe no number of scalding showers or amount of rain could wash me clean. Even if the stain were bleached out, I would know how it had been scrubbed and scraped. It would remain scathed because I would know where it had been. The problem with that belief is that it makes you want to burn the whole house down. Mitski recently reminded me that self-destruction is awfully convenient for the world (and perpetrators), and that living tenderly is a truer and stronger rebellion.
Early in my survival process, I thought abuse, trauma, and grief had to be mastered; when I discovered that was impossible, I believed they had to be carried. Now, I’m realizing that I don’t have to do either. I don’t know why I carry this impossible heaviness with me everywhere. I’ve done a lot of things simply because I believed I had to. All of them were necessary - for a time - but it’s difficult to discern how long each technique is essential before it becomes destructive. (Thank goodness for therapy).
That’s the problem with stumbling into the unknown; there’s not much of a “how-to” guide. There’s no syllabus. The only way forward is through more darkness, more change, more terror. All I know is when something isn’t working anymore and it’s time to try something else. In some Latin religious texts, the pathway to heaven (the valley of the shadow of death) can be referred to as “the vale of tears.” I love that term because it’s something to be passed through, not lived in.
Keats said it’s not a vale of tears; there is no other world. It’s a vale of soul-making. It’s our job, as human beings to create our own light and to be a mirror to others. I think one way we accomplish that is by living compassionately and authentically. We have to make, discover, and protect art that sustains us and endows us with the courage to continue to live in and impact this world.
Grief came to me for a lot of (destructive) reasons, but it also came to broaden my horizons; to make room for what’s next. Whatever that is, it’s coming in like a fucking meteor.
I am (still) willing.