Sunday, February 23, 2014

Facing Grief and Hoping for Forgiveness

For the last few weeks, my street, like many of the streets in our city, offered only snowbank/glaciers disguised as parking spots. Last Saturday, relieved to be home after a bout of sobby snow-driving, I pulled into one and was promptly stuck, pulled-in but crooked, my tiny front wheel drive car unable to move forward or back.

Though part of me saw this as a permanent condition, I went out every evening after supper and shoveled it a little, watching the sunset in the process, getting in long, somewhat overshare-y conversations with my downstairs neighbor while his two-year-old goofed around with the shovel. I wasn’t really hoping to unstuck myself, just to thin the layer a little bit so I could get out sooner if a thaw ever came.

Yesterday was the most beautiful day, the perfect day to finally drive somewhere, anywhere. I was shocked, shocked! when the car pulled right out and I was on my way. I drove around for hours listening to old mix CDs and stopped at a state park to take a walk. I loved the sunlight and the smiles on the other hikers. One girl behind me was so overcome by the relief of the weather that she began singing “Don’t Stop Believin’” in a way that made me immediately want to agree. I stopped and watched in awe as a constellation of geese made bright white shapes across the sky and disappeared into the distance.

When I stopped at a Whole Foods for supper, the girl who was ringing me up must’ve thought I needed Buddha so badly that she gave me my copy of Tricycle for free. From what I read over my sushi and chocolate cookies, she wasn’t wrong. I drove and drove, belting out early Beatles songs at the top of my lungs until the rottenness inside me started to break up and be replaced by warmth, the way the parking spot ice had begun to. I started to be free as soon as I realized that I have to just go ahead and be stuck for a while.

When I look with compassion at my most vexatious connections, I see a common motivation for all of us: trying to fight grief with love. All of my most painful mistakes happened with people in the midst of dissolving relationships, mourning deaths, post-traumatic stress, or just trying to forgive themselves for their parents’ sins and their own. People, that is, just like me, trying to build a fortress of sensation, experience, and love in the face of unfathomable loss, a pain so big it’s hard to even see, let alone start feeling it. I’m sorry for the ways I’ve combined with their pain to make it worse.

That last night, the Mystery Family asked me for forgiveness, but if I look honestly at the situation, there’s nothing to forgive. Once I stopped coming from a place of fear, stopped fighting to regain some imagined loss of dignity, I can see an honest attempt at connection that just didn’t work. Of course it’s possible that he could have been both missing me and playing with someone else—I was never nothing. I just wasn’t the right thing for me to be, and that was my responsibility too.

More important, though, is the fact that they were not nothing. The pain that I’ve caused others every time I’ve failed to take care of myself, failed to say the good no, is real. When I’m in that place of helplessness and smallness, I feel as if nothing I could do or say can have impact, so I scream and rage thinking no one will hear me or ever be affected, but I know they are. I know we were all trying to do what we could for each other and that every accusation, rejection, and harsh paragraph breaks down whatever was good between us. I’m very lucky to have been forgiven by some of them.

I know I can’t make it up to anybody, but I know I can act in better faith from now on, recognize my real limitations and not just what I wish my limitations were. Instead of trying to solve grief with outside love, let me turn and face it, let it be where I am right now. I’m not cute or compersiony, I’m pissed. Sometimes I’m simmering with bitterness and rage that my friends are at the center of loving families while I am here alone. Though I’m alone for the best and most necessary reasons, I hate it with every cell in my body. I want to be the person I want to be, not the one I am right now. I want to be loved and embraced and to do the same for others, but right now I have to admit that I can’t.

As long as I try to correct grief with new relationships, I will be dehumanizing people in exactly that way that drives me crazy. I’ll be the contradiction that upsets me most in others: both nakedly available and completely inaccessible, a plate-glass window for sparrow hearts to keep smashing into. The way I’ve played through grief has often been deeply irresponsible, and for that, I’m truly sorry.

I will try and honor the hearts I’ve harmed, accept the love they gave for what it was, and do my best to care for myself, shovel myself out a little each day until the thaw comes.

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