I thought the summer of 2005 was hard, when I had to pack up for college and leave all my best friends. I went to a small, Christian school, which was like its own world – a bubble – hard to really understand unless you grew up in the same environment.
What I know now is that there is leaving what you knew, and there is loss of what you believed to be true. Those are not the same. That summer was an emotional rollercoaster, but this summer is soul-searching heartbreak and confusion.
Necessary change and sudden loss are so entirely different. One is like being in water that is turned up so slowly, you don’t realize that it’s boiling until you’ve spent some time simmering in it. It hurts, but you become acclimated. The other is an amputation, quick and irreversible, so abrupt and shocking that you wake up in the morning still reaching for that phantom limb.
There is so much that I’ve learned recently in the most painful way. So much that I wish I knew even a few months ago. There were feelings that I thought I buried, unchecked assumptions, and unmet needs that all came bubbling to the surface like a science project volcano. The gasoline was everywhere, but I was still convinced that no one would possibly dare to the light the match that would set everything on fire.
I learned that even good intentions can get complicated, something I only knew before cerebrally – it’s the number one takeaway from the field of international development. Proverbs 18:21 (MSG) has never rang more true: “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.” Honesty is bittersweet, and even things that are true are sometimes better left unsaid. We never really know what’s lying beneath the surface that can resurrect into the perfect storm of human error.
I find myself trying to do everything possible not to sit with the grief. My coping strategy is to read a million books (currently on my nightstand: Bittersweet, The Meaning of Marriage, Becoming Mom Strong, How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, The Eternal Current, What Comes Next and How to Like It, Be the Gift, The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted, You and Me Forever), to move the ache from my heart space to my head space, because it’s easier to understand up there.
I made new goals, new lists – everything is a task. If you’ve listened to the most recent Typology podcasts with Claire Diaz-Ortiz, that’s me, right now, in a nutshell. I have appointments lined up, a wardrobe refresh in progress, birthday parties planned, and my postpartum exercise regimen researched (yup, still 7 months pregnant). I even signed up for the Sprouted Kitchen Cooking Club. I mean, good food heals all, right? I was operating at 60%, and now it’s time to bump it up to 100, because it’s easier to forget what’s broken when you keep moving towards the better and the best. The record playing in my mind: what’s next, what’s next, what’s next, do better, do better, do better.
Spoiler alert: Move on and move on fast is not a strategy that works. There is no fast-forwarding. There are no shortcuts. If you’re lucky, there are second chances, but no do-overs.
I’d rather have all the sunshine and iced lattes, but I’m learning that the layers of love and loss, lessons and let-it-be’s are moving me closer to wholeness. Shauna Niequist wrote: “Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity.”
Fall is a season of layering, of falling leaves and sweater weather. Even as I prepare for it – buying cardigans and faux leather leggings (that in reality, I won't be able to fit into for six months), I don’t wish for it to come sooner. There’s still healing to be had in the long days and golden hours and warm, beach nights, but even those days are coming to a close. Now is the in-between.
There’s a point in childbirth known as the transition. It’s the absolute worst. (I’ve had two unmedicated natural births with the obvious impending one on my mind). It’s the lowest point in all of labor, the point where it feels like the contractions are never going to end. They hit back to back, and there’s no relief. It doesn’t feel like dying. It feels like you are very much alive, and what you want is to not feel everything quite so much. Like, right about now would be an excellent time to go numb or pass out until it’s all over.
That’s the point when you know that you’re close. You just need to hang on a little bit longer. You need to breathe deeply and hold tightly to your husband’s hand. Time will pass at the slowest rate possible.
And then, your baby comes.
The time that seemed to pass at a snail’s pace, stops. Completely.
Not every real-life transition ends with something as transcendently beautiful as a newborn baby. But there’s hope in that. The cross was not the end of the story. It was the in-between, the transition, the slow passing of time. The story is still being written.
I came across an Instagram post recently that said that sometimes the wisest and kindest thing you can do is walk away. Part of walking away is giving up knowing how the story ends. Uncertainty about what comes next has never been easy for me, but I hold onto the belief that the ending is always about the deepest, fullest kind of life and that the transition is what gets us there.