“[There is a] universal truth that we are all are responsible for our lives — that we all suffer and we all need to find light in that darkness, strength in that weakness.” This quote from Chery Strayed is how I ended my last blog post.
These words are still echoing in my head. I’m wondering what it would look like if I didn’t take that responsibility, if I didn’t try to find the light and the strength.
What would it look like if I gave in to the heart-clenching anxiety that knots itself in my belly and sticks in my throat? What would it look like if I let the particles of my life break down around me, letting the darkness crowd into the emptiness of the night?
I recently saw a couple of people I hadn’t seen since my husband’s death. In the course of typical small talk, they asked about my house – I’d sold it – and about my job – I’d quit it. Oh, they said, yes, it’s been a while now, I guess you’re moving on.
What does moving on look like?
What would my life look like if I hadn’t sold the house that was too big and too much work? Or if I’d stayed at the job that burned me out and rejected an amazing new career path?
I don’t know what moving on is supposed look like.
I once compared grief to the loss of a limb. If moving on is like growing a new limb, I tell you this cannot be done.
I have a 3 year old who, struggling with the concept of death, recently told me that soon Daddy won’t die anymore. If moving on is brushing this off, I tell you this is impossible.
These days, grief is quiet as a shiver, no longer fighting a noisy battle, and choosing instead to be quite invisible to all save a handful of people. But missing Chris still permeates every breath I take. If moving on equates “invisible” to “nonexistent,” then it also means I must stop breathing.
I don’t know what moving on is supposed to look like.
But I know this: Life demands living. My heart still beats with quiet desperation but also with gratitude and revelation.
It’s all too easy to get sucked into the messy chaos of daily life and forget that we are mortal.
The dishes in the sink, the crayons in the carpet, the too-tight pants and the overdue project… would these things cross my mind at the ear-splitting sound of metal on metal? At the announcement of a dreaded diagnosis? At the moment death brushes hideously close to my fingertips?
It is so easy to forget we are mortal.
How can we reconcile the little moments of daily experience with the big-picture vision of a well-lived life?
What I’ve slowly come to realize is that we can’t live our lives as if death is chasing us down. We can’t pretend it’s possible to be joyful every minute of the day just because we’re not dead yet. We can’t deny that’s sometimes we get afraid and anxious and sad.
But I do think we’re responsible for finding light and strength.
We do not move on when death brushes our lives. But we live. We continue to live.
We live in the small moments and the baby steps. We start collecting the minutes of the day that can grow our lives into something we love and are proud of.
We surrender our big-picture expectations and the timetables that control our lives; these things will not protect us against the shivers of death. Instead, we wake up every morning and know we are alive. We embrace the tiny moments that make us thank God we’re alive, and build on these moments to create the life we’ve always wanted to live.
And when that’s difficult to do, when it’s cold and you’re tired and work is hard and family is difficult, here are the words I remember:
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world
~Mary Oliver, “When Death Comes”
Earlier in this poem, Mary Oliver writes:
I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular.
And isn’t that so true? Isn’t life simply days of common moments building upon each other to construct something extraordinary?