A friend recently contacted me and asked me to send along any suggestions for books/collections to read. They let me know that they often enjoy the different things I post up on Facebook and wondered if I might have some suggestions - anything to make them smile.
Now, this truly warmed my heart. Obviously we are all floating around on things like Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Instagram and Google+ (I know, I know, no one is on Google+). In any case, we are floating around, sharing articles and quotes and music and photos and not really ever sure who is connecting in and enjoying any of it. To me, the ultimate reason to even have all of these ways to connect is to actually make good on that connection; to have an impact on someone else in a way that positively improves their day - even if it is just for a few minutes.
With that said, I also reflected on the fact that in the last year or so, I have watched many of the people I love most struggle with extreme loss. And I mean really fucking horrible loss. Like, you’re on the ground and you can’t get up loss. Knock you in the chest and take your breath away forever loss. Crawl into bed and sleep for a month loss. And for many of these people, I see the losses only adding up. And I also see very clearly that we really do need something to smile about.
In most cases, it is some version of losing a person they love, whether it is to death or divorce or distance. Let’s call them the 3 D’s of Loneliness. I have watched many of these challenging losses impact the world of people around me… and they haven’t exactly left me alone either. While the level of loss people are continuously experiencing also continues to floor me, I can’t help but marvel at our overwhelming capacity to keep getting up and confronting our days with our heads held high. Although, let’s be honest, we know there are definitely days that crying in the shower is our way of confronting the day, but that’s okay too.
My theory is that we continue to charge forward, face first, despite morning shower tears, because we often have this incredible network of people behind us who are willing to prioritize us when we’re falling down. Aside from their selfless love, these are the same people we share things with and connect with. We have the ability to pass a song along and say, “I know you will love this and feel it in your bones in the way that I am feeling it in my bones.” To pass along a book and say, “This helps me rearrange my head or my heart when I’m feeling lost and confused. I hope it helps you too.” These soft, empathetic, and loving touches with one another are often all we have in the face of supreme loss, a constant give and take that allows us to express ourselves to one another and support one another through words, music, and photos. This sharing process is the currency of connection. And in the face of that supreme loss, I see every day examples of the human capacity to keep on loving and giving and holding each other up. It gets me every damn time.
Of course, with loss comes great fear. It is next to impossible to endure losing someone you hold so dearly, have that process happen over and over again, in a variety of ways, and not walk away with just one thought: I’m never letting this happen again. That fear of pain and fear of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to loss can make us hesitant and bind us more strongly to a desire for distance and disconnect rather than a desire for closeness and connection. We can be torn between the head’s need to protect ourselves and the heart’s need to continue to love. In those moments of conflict, I am now convinced the only thing to walk you through the fear is the network of people who won’t give up on you, even if you freeze up, even when you are that little deer in the head lights. Sometimes patience and hand holding is very, very necessary.
So, on this rainy day, I am grateful for the love that abounds in my life, the people who hold me up and keep me moving when I freeze. In the name of sharing and connecting, I also give you five of my favorite things lately that make the face of loss seem a little more bearable:
1. Jonathan Safran Foer: There are many who feel his books are overly sentimental, possibly even corny. To those people, I think you are dead wrong. Whenever my heart is in a funk, reading Everything is Illuminated or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close always seems to set me right. I am reminded again of the human capacity for love and loss, and the importance of always keeping ourselves open to possibility. It is often a necessary reminder for days that are full of fear. I have possibly reread each of these books a hundred times and keep giving away my copies of them.
2. The Head and the Heart: Considering this band actually has a line in one of their songs that goes “don’t follow your head, follow your heart,” the reason they are on this list should be obvious. For those who are unfamiliar with this band, I give you: Rivers and Roads (for the times you are missing the one you love, missing home, anyone that is far away); Honey Come Home (for those of us getting divorced… which is basically everyone I know); Shake (for when you finally find someone to love again, even if it’s a mistake; someone that makes you shake).
3. Poetry: Yeah, I’m a total sucker for poetry. Frank O’Hara. Sylvia Plath. Anne Sexton. Sharon Olds. Walt Whitman. Audre Lorde. Writing your own poems is also cathartic, even when they are terrible little creations. Writing is this free form way of digging open all the caverns and getting out all the demons. Not always fun, but often necessary.
4. Music in General: Aside from The Head and the Heart specifically, music has been a life line lately. This has included: The National, St. Vincent, Volcano Choir, Arcade Fire, The Weeknd, Bon Iver, The Avett Brothers, Phosphorescent, and about a zillion other bands.
5. The Beach: Sand may be overrated (it’s just tiny little rocks), but the beach as a whole just isn’t. Seriously people, when your brain is foggy, go to the beach. I went recently with one of my friends and she put it perfectly. She said, the beach always reminds her of just how vast this world is. I agree. Remembering that the world is huge and full of possibility is always a reassuring reminder. The beach is a place that is lovely to visit alone or nice to visit with one of those people in your network who loves the hell out of you.
And so, my question to the world out there, what makes loss bearable for you?