Thursday, March 17, 2016

On Grief and Loss: Springtime Edition

March came in like a lion and brought with it more sadness and death. I swear, this whole year so far has been a series of obituaries and hard news. I'm not trying to be negative; it's just true.

And as ever, I'm sitting here just trying to process it all. My heart breaks at least once a day (but often many more times over) and tears are not often far from me lately. I feel like that raw place that you keep skinning again and again that never quite heals over.

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying all of this as a complaint—far from it. I really do consider it an honor to 'mourn with those who mourn' (Romans 12:15), but it is a reminder to me that every time you open your heart to love anyone (or anything), you also open yourself up to loss. And sometimes, that's a really hard pill to swallow.

I have a friend who keeps most people and most feelings at a distance from himself, and though he's never overtly shared with me why he does this, I know that he has deep hurts and wounds that have never healed over. He's felt safer retreating into a shell than opening himself up to more loss and hurt, but in doing so, he's also missed opportunities to really give and receive love in a deeper way.

It is quite easy in the face of profound grief, hurt, and loss to understand why someone would pull away and allow those wounds to scab over (though I would submit that true healing can only come from really going through the fullness of our experience rather than running from it). It's terrifying to think of enduring the kind of pain that will last a lifetime.

But then, what is living, really, if we avoid any feeling that might lead to pain? What is the meaning of our time here if not to love and experience all the richness that life offers—even if some of that richness hurts like hell?

Every time I am tempted to wall my heart off and cloister myself in a tower of numbness, I am reminded of a favorite poem by Edgar Lee Masters:

George Gray
I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me—
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one's life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire—
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

If I'm being honest, I have fears, too, of losing what I hold dear and of being hurt. Is there anyone who doesn't, on some level? But I am convinced that to try and avoid pain really causes more loss than plowing ahead with abandon and taking your chances. Though everyone's time here reaches an end eventually—and those who are left behind are changed forever as a result—it is important to remain undeterred from the quest to lift the sail in our own lives. It may end in madness, in grief, in realizing your greatest fears, but it may also end in your heart getting what it really needs: a way to fill that hunger for more.