“What is the work we are asked to do in the night world?…By keeping our vulnerability and mortality close, we learn to meet each moment with presence, even as we know it is passing away. We are invited into a conversation with death in which we are asked to look directly at the ways we are living.” Weller in The Wild Edge of Sorrow
The night world is a lot more vast than I ever hoped it would be.
I came to 2020 careening into my hospital chaplaincy career not yet fully recovered from a litany of eye-opening, heart-wrenching, relationship-ending events whose breaking news stories would now be in the archives. I came to 2020 with mostly processed grief, a firm calling, some collagen left in my skin, and 3 children in school AT school. And then I lived through 2020. And 2021. And now 2022. In America.
While the work I signed up for and my true self are generally at home in the space of presence and vulnerability, loss and paradox, I didn’t want this much practice in such an abbreviated period. The accelerated course is unwelcomed. Zero of us have arrived at this day, May 27, 2022, the same or as carefree as we were January 1, 2020. Households have changed. Belief systems have changed. Culture has changed. The effing Staples Center changed. Everything.
There are so many little deaths. Little as in, my little world. One of my sons is still holding the anxiety of the past two years of extended FOMO or just MO in his nervous system and I think he might pop with the next round of changes. Friends have fallen through after us sharing vulnerable shifts and having less to offer. In an attempt to meet up, extended family responds to a ginger question about Covid precautions with a one-word, ending answer. Stepping away from things that seem good enough for things that are true. Health scares in a time where frontline workers are either the best or the worst and no one, not even nobody, is going to answer their phone. Negotiating how a household of 5 increasingly different people might help each other become, while being more lonely. Facing strangers telling me their choice to not swab their snot in lieu of declining a vaccine is our visitor policy’s breech of the American Constitution. That dying feeling that my 7-pack of reusable straws would really help climate change.
And then there are the big, big, astronomical deaths, from George Floyd and all his televised murder represents to the government paralysis after 19 children who learned about police protection in preschool were shot and killed by a weapon of war in 4th grade while the uniformed stood down. (The same day, should’ve broke the calendar or at least, please god, Facebook.) Then there’s the silent model minority myth hushing the steady stream of targeted Asian elders throughout the country to the Supreme Court representatives, er, justices, who no longer exemplify any gestaltism asset in the American experiment. The pastors, for heaven’s sake, that just keep saying the same ol’ things when nothing is the same, LGBTQ+ babies are killing themselves, while accruing wealth and followers for what. These are deaths that forever change the relationship; grief has become the new relationship. With evangelicalism. With women finally at the table actively promoting patriarchy. With a narrative that is proven false on repeat but is defended at equal pace.
And with these deaths, from the small to the little, the grief regurgitates and accumulates. It clogs my arteries and chokes my throat and, often, opens the fridge door oddly enough. Not because I thought the dead had resurrected and then I’m upset again to find it hadn’t but because I’m still sad something has died, and every time I remember its death, someone else is screaming it’s still alive like a damned fool. We are all in different places with grief but sometimes it feels like someone trying to throw a baby shower at a funeral. (July 4th, coming right up.)
Even though sometimes I feel like a washing machine switching from the shaking agitation mode to the whirring spin that almost tips the whole thing over, I know I’m still here. It’s often not pretty but I’m not afraid of ugly; there’s a bottom to this grief. There’s a shape to the pounding. So far, I’m still able to sit beside a vibratingly emotionally-constipated little boy and see him. I wait, exercising whatever non-anxious presence I can muster to witness his building, hoping that my being is in fact more influential than my doing. I’m still so glad to show up and listen to what someone has to get off their chest before they can die in peace–strangers who I get to know just in time. I haven’t extracted myself from the dark hours to be but I am within them. I’m still rummaging around the sacred terrain of truth and tenderness and I’m comforted to know so many who are too.
If you feel like a 40-year-old Maytag drum, cleaning some shit in a dark abyss, this is all to say: you’re not alone. You are not crazy. Staying present, being feeling, opposing the company line, and knowing what has died is brave. Funerals are brave. Changing your mind is genius. Believing people and believing your self mean relief. I know of no other way to live through this. I’m really hoping to reach my particular death with my soul intact. Not escaping my way out of the sorrows. Not becoming a mental gymnast to maintain every other story never telling my own. Not denying the help I need. But the holy ground of being whole. Today, that requires knowing the night-ness of this night.
So here we are. Pallbearers with good vision. Living among the dead.