I am fortunate to have a majority of level-headed, reasonable friends. I saw nothing but sadness, sympathy and encouragement for the victims of the Boston marathon bombing on my facebook feed. Many of my friends, including B, were not so lucky. I gleaned from watching conversations on other people’s walls that there was a volcanic outpouring of vitriol, fear, fear-mongering, speculating, finger-pointing and other displays of people losing their shit. It’s understandable, really. Everybody has their ways of processing, and some are closer to the tragedy than others.
As I’ve slowed down over the past few weeks, one of the interesting things that has happened is that I’ve become aware of a pervasive sadness. I cry nearly every day, and if I don’t, I suffer some kind of psychosomatic weirdness – migraines, panic attacks, digestion issues, random pains.
Honestly, it doesn’t feel like depression to me. I’ve suffered serious depression, and there’s a heaviness and futility to that kind of sadness that isn’t present in the kind of sadness I’m feeling now. This sadness feels like grief. I haven’t figured out what I’m grieving yet, but the body doesn’t lie.
There are plenty of options to choose from. In the past two years, I had the house community that had shaped me for a third of my life taken from me in a sudden and uncompassionate manner, suffered an extreme romantic disappointment, spent 9 months wondering if I should call off my relationship with B, watched two good friends suffer persecution from the church I thought I loved, burned out badly on teaching, lost hope of staying in the neighborhood that had become my home and refuge in the city that I hate, moved three times, traveled to Taiwan to win over the future in-laws, got engaged, planned a full-weekend wedding, and helped plant a church. Through all of this, until the sabbatical, I was working two jobs. So I didn’t really have the luxury of so much time to process all of it. And that’s kind of a lot of life in 2 years. And that’s not even all of it, that’s just all the stuff that’s easily list-able here. There’s a lot of stuff I might need to grieve now that I finally have time to do it. So while I was surprised to discover the sadness beneath my sabbatical fun, I wasn’t really surprised.
Part of me wishes that I didn’t have to grieve it all. It would be so nice if there were a spell I could chant, or a magic token I could buy, or a wish-granter who could just take it all away. The grieving process is ugly and messy and sometimes excruciating. But the alternative is worse, and I know this from experience. I survived three kinds of abuse in my childhood, and I didn’t grieve it for a long, long time – just harbored a deep and abiding bitterness/hatred, which I aimed at myself and those around me. Unmourned grief doesn’t go away, it just settles into my bones and turns sour.
The worst part is that it’s easy to forget that it’s there. I forget that I have grief, but I see that I am not happy, and so grief paints other people as enemies, the thieves of my happiness. I point fingers and blame and scapegoat. Grief pouts like a child and insists that I must have things a certain way, and people must be a certain way around me, or else it (the grief) will make awkward, snarky, rude, mean, violent, or otherwise inappropriate appearances. Grief wants to punish people – the people who hurt me, and anyone who reminds me of the hurt I endured. It makes me kind of miserable to be around.
And so I am committed to grieving. It’s miserable. It involves finding a quiet, safe space (the shower often works), where I can surrender to the painful feeling of utter helplessness and anger and vulnerability, and cry and sniffle and get gross about it, and scream and beat my chest if I want to, and do whatever other weird, childish things seem necessary in order to let the grief feel honored enough to leave. I do this as often and as long as it takes. And I know, from experience, that if I keep it up long enough, eventually, when I’m ready, and it might take years, I will just run to the end of the grief, and it will be gone, and I’ll be left with gratitude and forgiveness.
It’s true that not all wounds heal completely; some shape us irrevocably. But even if the grief shapes me, it won’t own me once I’m done with it. It will lose its sharpness; it will lose its ability to harm me and those around me. By grieving, I acknowledge that though my suffering is not unique, it is important, because I am a person, granted dignity. By grieving, I am able to release my need to punish and embrace the choice of peace. By grieving, I grow strong enough emotionally to seek justice rather than vengeance. By grieving, I turn my pain from a sword into a plough.
This is my wish for me, for as long as it takes. And this is my wish for all those suffering from the Boston marathon bombing and other recent atrocities, and everyone suffering from the “full catastrophe of life” – that we would scream and cry and rend our clothes and beat our chests and wear sackcloth and ashes and pound the floor and cling to one another in the darkness for as long as it takes.
And then, maybe, we can choose peace.