What Bells Ring?

Splashes of gold and red frame the sky. Wilted leaves crunch underfoot. The sun is shining but it’s cold enough that I’m glad I have warm jacket pockets to tuck my hands into. A lot has changed; a lot is changing. I remind myself that this is how it always is, and always will be. Still, I worry about change like the human that I am.

As I stroll down the sidewalk in my clunky leather boots, a gust of wind awakens a wind chime from the porch to my right. It dings loudly and then sways slowly to make a low-pitched rhythm. This question arises in my mind: what bells ring?

What bells ring? I’m not sure exactly what this means, but I’ll take it as a message, as I usually do when something as clear as day states itself from a place deep inside. Could it be alarm bells? Bells igniting purpose or passion?

Recently, I envisioned a giant wave come crashing down onto the shore of myself, only to rise up, hop on the wave, and ride it. Then, last night, I dreamed I was fending off a pack of wolves in an open field. It’s hard to determine where exactly my psyche’s at these days. All I know is I’m riding something big. I’m growing, I’m making mistakes, I’m overcoming challenges, I’m greeting change at the door. If you’re doing this too, then I commend you. You’re fighting the good fight, the only fight there is. And the only way is through…

img_0171

 

Advertisements

I’m Still Alive

Seattle was wet like it usually is. Despite the rain, we were smiling. It was Valentine’s Day after all, and we were together.

seattle

We’d wandered into a cozy bar and took turns feeding the jukebox. Sipping on drinks, we sang along to Van Morrison and Al Green, nodding and humming. The jukebox shuffled – a pause – and then my song, Pearl Jam’s “Alive” clicked on.

Eddie Vedder belted out his infamous line “Oh, I, Oh I’m Still Alive,” and the man at the bar began swaying side to side. He looked as if he was made of stiff limbs rather than muscles that bend and flex. We watched him with sideways glances from our tiny red vinyl booth. A guttural yell escaped from his mouth and filled the tiny tavern, pushing against the walls. It occurred to me that he was trying to sing along. The word “Alive” was momentarily audible but the syllables were drawn out and muffled as if he had a cotton ball under his tongue. 

The bartender kindly told him it was time to leave. His behavior was beginning to interfere with the other patrons. One too many drinks; and perhaps, one too many heartbreaks.

Although it was a painful sight to watch – a grown man in his late 50’s three sheets to the wind, mumbling and stumbling, unaware of the impact he was making on those around him – there was something about it that stuck with me weeks later.

It’s the brokenness that was so clear, and the humanity I saw beneath this man’s moment of rawness. Although his actions were jarring, they were also somehow comforting. As two friends guided him to the sidewalk to take a cab ride home, I saw a man who was lost. And I also saw a man fighting something – or maybe for something. For what, I don’t know, and I’ll never know. But I imagine it to be love. The love we all crave so deeply. Not just from others, but from ourselves. And with that comes acceptance – knowing that you are okay just the way you are.

I recently turned 28, and birthdays have a way of making me take stock of things. I’ve had a lot of gains, and also a lot of losses in my time here thus far. And in the depth of my grief, I’ve even felt as if I’m at risk of losing myself. But tonight, as I feel the sharp edges of wounded places in me, I remember this man and Eddie Vedder and the words, and even though I feel swallowed whole by emotion sometimes – I’m still alive. You could even say they’re proof of it.

Inch by inch, I get a little closer to something that resembles love; maybe even acceptance.

bridge

When the Leaves Fall: Loss, Grief & Facing Tomorrow

It was almost a typical Monday. I woke up, drove to work, sat down at my desk, and sipped a cup of hot coffee. One thing that was definitely different than the previous Monday was the weather: dark gray clouds, ominous with the smell of rain, hovered outside the window. It was the Fall Equinox after all, and nature was fittingly showing off her punctuality.

I felt as if I had gone to bed the night before still in the dreamy arms of summer, only to wake up at fall’s feet a day later. But that wasn’t the only thing that caught me off guard. That morning, a message from a friend in Europe was waiting in my inbox with a request I couldn’t have anticipated.

She asked me to write a love letter to a family member who needed something to hold onto — a reason to keep going after the sudden death of her best friend had turned everything painfully inside out, and upside down.

I was stunned first, and then sad second, and then I got down to business. I spent two days thinking about what I’d write. What could I possibly say that could help?

I don’t have the answers; that’s the first conclusion I came to. And although I’ve been wracked with grief myself at the loss of several friends over the past few years, and most recently, my beloved writing mentor, I’m aware that loss touches us in such different and personal ways. There is no “one-size-fits-all” advice to give when it comes to grief. And yet, I was being asked to offer something to a stranger that would somehow encourage her to keep moving forward and still find the beauty in living.

This is not the only person that has been brought to my attention who is currently experiencing loss and change. At this time of year especially, it feels as if a hand has silently grasped the veil of summer’s illusions and pulled it aside, revealing a plainer, much harsher truth. Relationships are ending. Paths are shifting. Souls are departing. But just as there is no problem that exists without a solution, the shadow of life cannot exist without light. These illusions are being shaken loose so we can reconnect with our most primal existence and remember that life is a yin and yang of life and death, love and suffering.

“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.” -Khalil Gibran

It goes without saying that it’s a tough time for many. The only salve I know of is to take hands with those you love and share the load. We’re in this together.

And in that spirit, I sat on my blue and white bedspread and wrote my 28th* love letter, which I promptly sent through the internet to a country approximately 5, 298 miles away.

With the permission of my friend, I’ve pasted it below. Please note that I’ve changed the name of the letter’s recipient in order to protect her privacy. My hope is that if you are reading this, and you too are suffering a loss of great proportion, this helps ease some of the pain, if even for a few minutes.

Birds Flying

Dear Anna,

I met your sister in a hostel just over a year ago. When I saw her from across the room, she was a glowing mass of passion and energy – a force of spirit. And I am so glad I got to travel with her. Out of her love for you, Anna, she asked me if I’d write you a love letter, because she tells me you are going through a very difficult time — an unimaginably painful time.

I’ve been thinking about you for the last two days, wondering how I can possibly comfort you with my words when you must be feeling as if the world has torn a piece right out of your heart. Darling, I want to tell you that the only beautiful thing that comes from loss is this: you feel your beating heart, albeit its being full of sadness and grief, it’s yours, and it’s beating for a reason. There’s a purpose for your soul here on earth, and this immense trial in your life may be a part of it. Perhaps now some comfort will come from reading other people’s stories of loss. Look to those who have been torn open, but somehow made it through to the other side. Cheryl Strayed, author of “Wild” is one of those people. She writes matter-of-factly about the process of grief:

“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.” -Cheryl Strayed

My advice is to let the grief exist. No need to fight it. This is your experience, and it’s real, and it’s valid. It’s also 100% natural. There’s no one way to feel grief, so don’t believe the books that tell you about the stages and try to estimate how long it will take to move on. This isn’t a matter of logicality; it’s a deeply personal matter of the heart. The process of grief is one of the core experiences that makes you human and connects you to people all across the globe who also know what it feels like to have lost someone they loved very much.

As difficult as it feels now, one day you will wake up with a little less pain than the day before. Gradually, after many days and months, and years, you will gain a strength you never knew you were capable of. And that strength will guide you to put one foot in front of the other and practice living again, until one day, you’ll feel love bloom in your heart, and you will risk caring about another person as much as you did about your friend. This is how you will know that you’re healing.

Until then, darling, there will be a lot of very difficult days. Unfortunately, no one can protect you from them, so you just have to hold onto what good things you can (like your family, a big oak tree, a walk by a stream, your favorite music, etc.) and ride your emotions like the brave woman you are. You are surrounded by people who love you and want to be there for you. Take their hands when you can. You don’t ever have to do this on your own; although no one can take the pain away, sharing your thoughts and feelings with others will help a lot.

Eventually, after an unknown amount of time, you will find a way to make peace with your friend leaving too soon. But in order for acceptance to come, you’ll have to do some soul searching and reading, and deep thinking about what you think life and death are about, and find a way of making sense of things for yourself. This might take a very long time, and understandably so. It’s okay to ask god, or friends, or family, or yourself the same questions over and over again, and not have any immediate answers. Humans spend their lifetimes trying to understand why things are the way they are.

Still, it won’t change the fact that they are the way they are. And that’s why sorting it out the best you can by establishing your own philosophy will give you a very important pathway to navigate your sadness by. This is what spirituality and religion exist for – they provide a light for you to walk beneath when you are lost in unimaginable darkness.

And on that topic, the universe cannot exist without light. What that means is there will be good things to come for you, Anna. This is not the end. It’s just the beginning of something different. You will get through to the other side.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to you. You are experiencing one of the most difficult aspects of being alive, and it fucking sucks. That is undeniable.

But the light is still all around you and within you, and someday soon, you’ll be able to see it again; of this, I am 100% certain!

Love to you,
Abby

This is what I imagine the landscape of healing might look like before plants break through and bloom in your heart.

This is what I imagine the landscape of healing might look like before plants break through and bloom in your heart.