I wrote this three years ago and somehow forgot to publish it. Its about to become an essay in my new book Unshaken Wonder, which will reach others in October 2017. I’m posting it here now for my friend Clay Forsberg. In part, in response to his lovely new essay Staying Strong. Stay strong, Clay! You’ve got this…
I shattered this year as my family shattered.
My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. My father’s been caregiving for 9 years and his own health and well-being and attitude have taken a hit. My sister and I are care partners for both of them now. My extended family has been in a court battle over my grandparents’ estate for a year and a half. Too many of my once-close family can’t stand each other now. So much anger. Some days I choke on it.
Many in my family won’t speak to each other at all now. Some quietly drifted away. Some cut ties with us because they can’t handle our pain on top of their own. One I cut ties with because after a year of inflexible rage I realized that I was actually talking to a wall, not a person, and so was she. I’ve been told my poetry is experienced by some as bashing the family and that my immediate family is no longer experienced as part of the larger family. Some are certain that their ties are broken forever. Some cry for weeks on end. Those not speaking to each other tend to make wild assumptions about the motives and stories being told by the other side. There are apparently “sides” now and a lot of us don’t recognize that taking sides and creating sides are the same thing. Several of the people who spent decades teaching me to love tried—and failed—to teach me to hate. Game changer! It’s bizarre. They rage at each other. Rage to anyone who’ll listen, actually. Sometimes they appear to enjoy imagining and saying the worst. Many feel torn in half. Betrayed. I know I do.
If you want to remain in the Keep Calm and Carry On world forever, by all means, don’t come here. Don’t enter the space between.
Here we rage. We fail. We scream. We yell. We weep. We make huge, unforgiveable mistakes. We fight. We flee. We watch our hands become axes as we cut ties with those we love/hate/must move away from just to survive. Wonder if those sharp axes will ever be reimagined into poet’s hands again.
Here we shatter.
From Keep Calm and Carry On Land, we may appear crazy. Out of control. Scary. Broken. Dangerous.
Oh but we aren’t. We are living a different kind of life is all: a wilder, wider, always-moving-now life.
One life is a pond. It is calm and serene on the surface. Its danger is stagnation and limited self-reflection pointing only at the sky. In humans this can show up as stability. Without shatter, though, it can also show up as rigidity, self-righteousness, losing touch with beyond-self reality, and choking on a festering stew of your own judgments and imagined monsters. I don’t have to imagine this. I live it.
Life within the shatter is more like a river. Its danger is flooding and overwhelm. In humans, this can show up as flexibility, empathy, and exploring the nature of things far beyond the self/pond. Without some stability, though, it can also show up as being so far out of control that you visibly cause harm to yourself and anyone in your path. I don’t have to imagine this life either. I live with shatter every day now.
Shattering is not easy. The shattering of my mom‘s former self and memory is heartbreaking some days: wonder-filled and awe-inspiring and beyond amazing other days. This past year, the shattering of my entire family was so heartbreaking it felt like I was going to die. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t.
Instead, I became a family elder. Cut ties with some relatives (and some cut ties with me) to have more energy for supporting my parents, sister, aunt, cousins, husband, and self.
I became sillier. I binge watched all 153 episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix to mend my broken heart. A show that I’d never watched before and written off in passing as ridiculous, harmful, sexist, girly pop-culture brainless fluff. (Gosh, I’m not judgmental at all, am I?). The show mended a little girl’s broken heart. This little girl, age 44. My sister and I then reimagined ourselves as an improv comedy caregiving troupe: Team Jinda.
I became a dragon. I spoke my truth in person, in poetry, and in essays and drew the wrath of extended family, who screamed “You know that’s not true!” at me for sharing my perspective. It worked. Those previously inclined to rage at my exhausted father and my pregnant sister turned their eyes and their rage on me. Or tried to anyway. It’s remarkably hard to fuck with a dragon: especially a poet dragon who works part time as part of an improv comedy troupe. I am a person now comfortable in the presence of pure rage. Yours and mine.
Those who appear crazy, out of control, dangerous, scary, or broken don’t scare me as much now. Those who rage, scream, flail, yell, weep, fight, flee, or make unforgiveable mistakes don’t scare me either.
That’s just my people.
People who shattered. Survived. And got remarkably fluid, powerful, and silly in the process. We got stronger.
We move together like a river now. More powerful, and broken, than before.
We mix metaphors like fancy cocktails with little umbrellas.
Here within the shatter, the sign in the window always glows Open. Wide Open, actually.
Except for the brief moments it glows Get the Fuck Out and Let’s Try Again Next Year.
That’s what staying strong looks like for us now.
Stay strong, my friend!
After reading yet another repetitive, tired article this morning about increasing my productivity as a writer, I made a vow. As of 10 a.m., December 3rd, 2015, I will never again click on a link promising to teach me about increasing my productivity as a writer. I feel more productive already.
Worrying about productivity is a task for mindless cogs in a machine. We are not mindless cogs. We are writers. Creators. We don’t live other people’s stories. We create our own. Productive is just an adjective in deft fingers: useful only when we choose it to appear within our stories as needed. It’s nothing more than that.
1. Goals shmoals.
I wander the beach now, at times going shoeless, even in winter, to feel sand beneath my feet. I talk to deer and rabbits and birds as I walk through the woods. I chat with strangers in shops and at the dog park and with my neighbors on the street. I retreat quietly, for long chunks of time, to observe and reflect. I support my family and neighbors struggling with disconnection, heartbreak, violence, and disease. I create coworking spaces: playing with other writers and artists and humans doing other cool things. I love crafting books, poems, and essays. I love trying new things, with new people. Who I am naturally makes me a productive writer. Why did I think otherwise?
2. There is no such thing as writer’s block.
I write all the time. I write to learn. To heal. To play. To mourn. To support my world and my family. To communicate. To kill time. To pay bills. To flirt. To dream. Like a drunken bumble bee lingering among wildflowers at dusk, I write for the pure delight of it. When I can’t write, that’s not writer’s block. It’s writer’s intuition: a gift saying “There is actually something else more important to be done first.” I’ve learned to listen to it. Even when what I’d really rather do is kick it in the teeth.
The “block” might be saying that you really need to eat something. That you need to move or exercise. To work on another project for a while. Or it might be saying something bigger. You need to ask for help. You need to sell your house. Or change who you’re spending your time with right now. Maybe your next door neighbor needs help, or your sister needs a pep talk, and you need to be not writing tonight so that you’re available to notice. Or maybe you yourself need to rest. I’ve learned that if I trust the block/intuition on this one, that I don’t need to get sick to make deep rest finally happen. This fall my parents needed me to drive their car across the country for them and help set up a new home for them here near us. I couldn’t write for a few days before and most of the time while this was happening. That was a good thing. The “block” always gives me time to examine and drop my ridiculous expectations and assumptions about myself, writing, and the world so that I can return to them fresher, as something closer to the real me, instead of showing up completely exhausted and pissed off. If you must believe in the block, focus on learning to trust the block.
3. Everything I do counts as writing.
Just because others can’t see this, or don’t agree, that doesn’t make it less true for me. When I’m taking a walk, I’m pre-writing. When I’m grocery shopping or cooking, I’m feeding a writer. When I’m napping and dreaming, I’m receiving writing ideas from the universe. When I’m listening to music or attending a play or binge-watching Netflix or cleaning the cat box or noticing the sound that boots on a snow-covered sidewalk make, I am a writer. Absorbing. Listening. Learning. Imagining. When I sit in a sunbeam, I’m writing. When I mend, trade, or shop for clothes, and do laundry, I am clothing a writer. When I walk in the pouring rain, without my coat on, or I sit on the ground instead of a chair, or I offer sincere and loud direct reply to an eagle’s cry, I am a poet, poeting. I am writing every single moment of my life now. Only those who have the option to return for another life here get to be more productive than I am.
4. Procrastination is trustworthy.
What writers lack in self-confidence we more than make up for in intuition. Our intuition is rock solid even when it lands us way off course and lost in the wilderness. Especially when it lands us way off course and lost. I’ve learned to ignore people, including myself at times, who say otherwise. My procrastinating self knows that I literally have better things to be doing than the work I’m struggling to do. That struggling itself is the sign. And if that means I need to go watch silly cat videos or lurk on Facebook for a while or bake a cake from scratch for no reason, then so be it. Procrastination is a flashing sign that it’s time for a break, a shift, a move, a change, a rest. Big or small. Your call.
5. I don’t actually need to be more productive. I need to be more fully present.
Spend 5 minutes and write down everything you’ve done this year to make life better on planet earth. Be generous with yourself: pretend that it’s your best friend writing the list on your behalf. I wrote and published three books this year: one about turning your home into a free community coworking space, one for other dementia caregivers about becoming your own respite center, and one for others interested in the process of becoming a poet and an artist. I wrote two mini-books containing tips for working in and hosting an informal coworking space. I also wrote essays and poetry, and blogged them, receiving thanks and feedback, regularly. I wrote offline entirely, just something for myself, almost every week. I taught others about creativity and writing and publishing. I took on temporary writing and editing gigs to help pay the bills. I also supported family dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and the birth of a new baby, supported friends through their many struggles and joined them in their joys, prepared a home for sale and sold it, joined a memory and brain wellness center’s board at a local hospital, started a new coworking space, made new friends, drove a car across the country, helped set up a new home for my folks, took care of my neighbors’ dogs and cats, canned pickles and jams and applesauce and tomatoes for the winter, took care of my spouse and home and pets, started a small business with my husband, and gathered neighbor-offered art supplies and well wishes for the new family that bought our Seattle home.
What ridiculous, nonsensical part of me thinks that I still need to be more productive to be of value? The part of me that needs to shut the hell up.
Productivity as a goal — as handed to me by the industrial world, my own fears, and all others foolishly attempting to turn wonderfully messy humans into less messy machine-type automatons — makes no sense here in my real world. Here, productivity has more to do with getting better at noticing our already amazing world and the journey of trying to leave it a speck more amazing than we found it. Here productivity is a natural outcome of being alive and fully present in the world together. Becoming more fully present requires a whole lot of things that on the surface appear to be the opposite of productive in the large-scale industrial sense (which I now officially recognize as Ridiculous City in my story). Things like wandering the wilderness alone, helping neighbors, talking to animals, daydreaming, sitting on the ground, and doing nothing are what make me, and those I touch, so productive.
6. Receive the world lightly and embrace the consequences of doing so.
Your heroes. Your most respected mentors and teachers. Your friends and family. Your partner. Your manager. Your editor. Your boss. Your client. All your former selves. None of these people know that perfect combination of what makes you more or less productive today, right now. Receive the bits that work for you today. Let the other bits go. Lightly, gracefully, when possible, like a tree letting go of leaves. I now move away from me-specific energy drains, as kindly as possible, and move toward energy-creating-for-me people/ideas/things whenever I can. I’ve had to say “No, that doesn’t work for me.” and “This isn’t working for me anymore.” and “I can’t do things the way you do them.” and “I can’t do this the way I used to do it.” to countless deeply respected mentors, teachers, family members, and personal heroes. People who I trust 100 percent. I’ve had to say “No more!” to all my former selves too. As a novice. As a struggling writer. As a person not making enough money to live on or one who really needed the money someone was offering me for a job I didn’t want to do anymore. As a still mostly clueless (even at age 25, then 35, then 45) human. Even when I had no idea what actually would work in the moment.
For me, receiving the world lightly, gracefully, involves regularly listening to and then visibly using the voice that says “This works for me right now. This doesn’t.” It also involves regularly accepting, and eventually embracing, the consequences of this privilege: 1) allowing everyone around me to do the same, 2) connecting more deeply to others in any given moment, and 3) moving away from people regularly, when the moment isn’t quite right for connection, even away from people I love. It’s about learning to trust our collective intuition. About learning to see and trust mentors-of-the-moment as they change. Some days they’re living people. Sometimes they’re long-dead people. Often they are small groups of trusted others. Sometimes they’re dogs, cats, trees, ocean waves, rain, wind, sunshine, books, poems, songs, paintings, or birds. Some days they are the me I’m saying goodbye to.
7. Prioritize whatever keeps you awake and present in the moment. As you notice valuable results, share them.
I’m learning to honor and embrace those things that keep me aware and present: whenever and wherever they show up. Writing and making/drinking tea consistently do this for me now, so I start my day with them at the moment. Then the dog shows up to play or go for a walk, so I shift and listen to/play with the dog. Then I’m hungry, so I shift to listening to my body. Then a neighbor knocks at the door, so I give her my full attention. After that, I really want to write again. Yet after too many days of writing alone my mind begins to wander. So I follow my desire for human interaction and go to the movies with neighbors, work on a project with friends, or go work in a coworking space where I am surrounded by writers and connect to become re-energized for my own work. Yesterday two dogs came into the coworking space and wanted to play. So I played instead of finishing my work on deadline. I created better work as a result. This is what being aware in the present moment feels like. Enough at ease with disruption, most days, that you are aware that you have a variety of options anytime disruptions happen, including the option of welcoming them and running with them. Those disruptions that push us out of our comfort zones are among the best to welcome and run with, IMO. To me, they are life’s hand-crafted, person-specific, just-in-time training. And if you ignore them, they just keep on coming in ever-louder ways.
For me, this individual prioritizing of what keeps us conscious and present (and willingness to drop individual plans and expectations for disruptions and concede that often the universe or currently present collective has a better idea) is the primary difference between being a creator most of the time and being a consumer most of the time. The fully conscious part is the tricky part. To remain conscious, awake, and aware, I have to be willing to prioritize whatever keeps me conscious, awake, and aware again and again. What keeps me present is different than it is for others. For me at the moment it’s living on the edge of the ocean. Walking in the woods and on the beach. Chatting with strangers. Helping neighbors. Creating coworking spaces with friends. Giving and receiving honest opinions on things with people who appear to have little in common with me. Engaging with others to reveal hidden community and connections. Playing with dogs and cats and friends. Figuring out how to communicate with my mom who has Alzheimer’s disease and a dad who is a far-beyond-exhausted caregiver. Very light business planning (aka, co-imagination check-in meetings). These things keep me present and paying attention today.
This makes it possible for me to spontaneously say “Enough! Right here is a place for me to be writing instead of reading. Creating instead of consuming. Right here my procrastinating is pointing me to what I actually should be doing today.”
For me, today, this was it: writing an article that had absolutely nothing to do with what I planned to do on a subject that I never intended to write about, ever.
Damn it feels good be human.
a little flash poetry for Jeffrey David Zacko-Smith
walking your talk
It just gets confusing
How do I
become a leader
when all I hear
How do I
silence the many voices
and find my own?
I learned something strange and wonderful this winter:
How significant a change I feel the need to make in my life has a fairly direct proportional relationship to how many days I’m willing to do nothing to get it.
There is a time and place for action when I feel the need for significant change.
But that time and place is after The Big Nothing, not before it.
For those of you who like some order with your chaos, my process is:
- Feel the need for significant change.
- Do nothing for a very long time. (that is, only doing things you adore so much that doing them is easy and natural)
- More nothing. (feeling luxurious now)
- More nothing. (feeling playful, naughty, and/or feisty now)
- Watch, stunned, as a remarkable idea gently touches down in your head like a visiting space ship landing on an empty field.
- Become more curious than scared, at least for a moment.
- Do something about it (something now simple and obvious, like smiling and greeting the newly arriving aliens, or maybe running like hell, depending on the situation).
Yesterday I was reading Havi’s blog, The Fluent Self (specifically, this post: http://www.fluentself.com/blog/personal/wish-235-a-hat-that-is-a-door/) and my eyes fell upon this new wish of hers:
“What do I want?
Ease. Miracles. Simplicity. Perfect simple solutions.”
I was compelled to say something to her, because I realized that I recently got exactly what she says she wants now and that I could describe what happened to me, perhaps opening some opportunity for insight for her into what she’ll need to do. So this poured out of me…
Havi, Ease, Miracles. Simplicity. and Perfect simple solutions came my way this fall/winter. Followed 8 weeks of doing nothing I didn’t want to do and a lot of doing nothing. For me, no work, no social obligations, no deep reflection. Just playing with cats, sleeping in, walking dog, SciFi reruns, creating for the fun of it, and good food. Seemed like a lot of time to waste at the time. Ah, past me. The change that came to me out of 8 weeks of nothing was simple and huge and entirely unexpected by me and others. The speed at which things changed after that was astonishing. The miracles that showed up kept my mouth dropped open, awestruck, for most of November and December. So simple, so perfect.
We now live on the beach, on an island, in a home whose previous owners left us their pirate flag. Surrounded by water, sand, trees, sky, stars, and a community of creators and writers. Friends live in our Seattle home now and run the coworking space out of their home now. I’m left aware that I didn’t make it happen. Was more sort of just a bouncy-house slide that I and my family slid down. I will never doubt 8 weeks of nothing again. In Lori Land, big nothing is the doorway to big perfect easy miraculous change.
Re-reading this it’s clear why I write: I have almost no idea what I believe until I see it in writing.
Then yesterday, my dearly beloved, and very busy, sister Jen said this to me:
“I’ve been to Mesa, Chicago, and Reno in the past three weeks and my sinus infection went from my head to my chest, so I’ve been traveling, working, and going to the doctor like a crazy woman. As of yesterday’s chest x-ray results, I am pneumonia free but have restricted airways. They are so very swollen I’m doing more wheezing and squeaking than breathing or coughing stuff out. So I am now on 4x per day oral steroids, a steroid inhaler, antibiotic, and some lovely cough syrup that says I should not operate heavy machinery while on it. I have a 3-day weekend, so am really looking forward to being home and having an extended chance to R & R.”
If life was entirely fair I’d have manifesting powers so extraordinary that when my sister is this sick, and believing that just 3 days counts as “extended rest and relaxation” then I could just mentally whisk her up here to our house and make her stay on our couch for at least two weeks. With pets to hug, nettle tea and apple cider vinegar to drink, and perhaps some walking-on-the-beach, time off the couch for good The Big Nothing behavior.
So this week it was Havi and Jen who helped me see that I learned something really important this winter.
For me, the more significant the change I feel the need for, the bigger the The Big Nothing needs to be. And The Big Nothing takes far longer than my rational mind thinks it should take. I’m talking hours instead of minutes (little change), or weeks instead of days (bigger change), or months instead of weeks (even bigger change). And so on.
The remarkable idea signaling the end of The Big Nothing, when it inevitably comes, feels about the same as if actual aliens landed in your field, assuming you had a field, which in my metaphor you do.
The remarkable idea causes your brain to think “What? That’s totally crazy.” Plus “That can’t happen.” Plus “Wow, that’s amazing.” And a little “Hey, that’s actually happening.” Then, when Curiosity has become greater than Fear, all the little things you do are moves in the direction of the remarkable.
I think the trick is that unless our The Big Nothing is for a long enough period of time, we aren’t present-in-the-moment enough to notice the aliens. Hell, we may not even know we have a field for spaceships to land on.
This time, for me, The Big Nothing meant only being and doing exactly what I most deeply wanted to be and do for 2 whole months—only the things that felt amazing in my heart and body and soul—often in the face of my rational brain prattling on that SciFi reruns, pajamas, anti-social behavior, and chocolate mousse were all utterly ridiculous ways to change myself, the community, and the world.
But The Big Nothing helped me hear the call of a pirate house on a beach on a distant island and know that that’s where we needed to be.
And The Big Nothing helped me hear the voices of friends who were being called to come live and build community in the home and neighborhood we were saying goodbye to.
And the remarkable idea, acted upon, is changing everything at once now. I’m growing closer to Daniel. I’m back to writing every day. I’m wandering aimlessly on the beach and in the woods and neighborhood now, every day, automatically exercising when for decades I’ve struggled to make this happen (Arrgh). And prioritizing who and what matters most to us is easier here too.
Oh, and I’m a pirate now.
Or, “Things I like about working for myself #4232: procrastination as an indicator that I really should be doing something else entirely.”
As I looked at the blank page for my blog post this morning, I couldn’t focus. I was restless. Distracted. Not like me.
I jumped onto Facebook, and saw a dear friend of mine–a kind, wickedly smart, and generous recipe-sharing woman from Jerusalem–post this.
And then I read an article a friend shared from The Onion about how all options our government has in response to the Syrian crisis are terrifically, horribly bad. In Lori Land, satire and comedy sources are the ideal places to hear deeper truths about ourselves that others are afraid to say out loud. They crack us open gently. And in the face of atrocity, we need gentle. At least I do.
Armed with the knowledge that the U.S. government is f#$!ed no matter what it does at this point (surprise, surprise), I then typed “What can I do to help the Syrian people?” into Google and spent a few hours reading ideas from actual Syrian people and people who’ve visited Syria recently.
Holy crap are there some brave people on this planet. And kind people. People who lose multiple family members and ask for nothing more than prayers.
It’s been decades since I prayed in the traditional sense–stemming from my experience that everything is one; the nature of reality, wholeness. A lived experience of this caused me to believe that the formal head-bowing, hands-clasped in supplication to a single deity business was unnecessary. A daily practice of noticing how everything is connecting, and of becoming more aware of everything, through this small, flawed self, was the path I chose instead.
But right now. Today. Can I pray for people whose families are being tortured and killed? People who take to the streets to change their governments and themselves? People who are directly asking for prayers?
Geesh. From the safety, peace, and quiet of my own home, I think I can. Hello perspective.
FYI, I became a fan of these sources of information on Syria, in case you’re interested:
This post isn’t just about Syria, though.
It’s about waking up.
It feels like the whole world is waking up right now.
It’s terrifying and wonderful and horrific and amazing. Like death and birth.
And overwhelming when experienced as an individual. No wonder we’re tired so often these days, even outside of official war zones.
And I think it’s high time that we cut ourselves a little slack.
So yes, I was procrastinating from my day job today. I was wasting time on Facebook.
But maybe procrastination isn’t the personal flaw we were taught it is.
Maybe procrastination is a wake-up call from my true self. An inner voice shouting “You have more important things to do than this!”
A call that only I can hear, so only I can answer.
If getting lost is an important part of finding our way, then maybe procrastination is the true me insisting on getting lost for a while, so that I can find my way again.
In my case, today became the day that I broke my own rules and talked about a global issue that matters to me on my ALWAYS-about-the-local blog. Today I allowed “emotionally local” to count as local for me. Today I said my first prayer in decades–a prayer for the people of Syria whose pain I cannot fully imagine yet somehow feel anyway. Today it was my procrastination that allowed me to eventually write this post: a post I didn’t know I would or could write.
What’s your procrastination telling you?
I don’t give advice. Bleh. But if I did, I’d suggest wandering around for a while and taking those necessary aimless steps toward answering your more-true-for-you call.
Two and a half weeks ago, our dear Grady dog stopped eating. No other obvious trouble: just no eating. First clearly saying NO to dog food. The next day, saying NO to treats. And the following day, NO to cooked chicken and turkey and meatloaf. Today, four veterinary specialty centers and dozens of tests later, this afternoon we’re going to finally hear the best educated guess of a group of doctors on our “passes all tests with flying colors” boy. He’s lost 8 pounds and his butt is bony now. But at least he’s doing well with syringe feeding and is now holding his own while we wait for his diagnosis and treatment options, if any.
Our hearts feel hollow in the hours we feel helpless. Hollow and empty.
We feel angry when nobody in the expert crowd seems to be able to help us. Angry.
And our hearts feel full in each moment we get to do something useful for him. Full.
Hollow and empty > Angry > Full
And then this weekend, a man in Connecticut walked into a school and murdered 27 people. Twenty-seven people, mostly very young children. It hurts my fingers to type it.
Hollow and empty.
I wept, feeling the pain of the experience and the grief of those families. Their grief. Our grief.
I wondered what the hell makes a person do something like this and how in the world it could happen and when in the freaking world our culture is going to learn to slow down, and notice the signs, and offer the hand of help and love every single time help is needed.
And then, slowly, Full.
Full, as I watched person after person attempt to help in their own ways: from sharing their own pain and confusion, to committing to perform random acts of kindness for every life lost, to sharing stories of hope, to sharing ideas for how to fix things and sharing data on trends, to images of support from other countries far away, to people sending the holiday gifts they intended to give their own children this winter to children in the school and families devastated by the shooting. And even though I personally don’t agree with every idea that was offered to help, something struck me this time around.
Everyone was trying to help.
Everyone is trying to help.
And my anger vanished. It just left.
The vets and specialists who’ve been disappointing us with their inability to diagnose Grady?
They are trying to help.
The people offering their perspective on the Connecticut tragedy?
They are trying to help.
And I thought, “That’s it. I’m taking the next 3 weeks off. I am hollow. I’m completely empty. I cannot think, let alone write. I need to rest. I need to sit here, take care of my dog, take care of my family and my self, and figure out where and who I am again.” Because who I am was a mystery to me again.
But the universe had other plans for me.
This morning, I learned that my friend Dan just passed away. Happy, most days. In the prime of his life. So funny, and fun, and full of life. Quitting smoking. Telling funny tales of exploits on the city bus that always made me laugh. Fostering long conversations on Facebook that stunned me in their openness.
Dan fell down a flight of stairs Sunday night, broke his neck, and left this world, just like that. No media coverage. No fanfare. Just gone. When—just a few hours earlier—he was spinning another terrific tale on Facebook.
After a career of helping others publish their high-tech work, he’d begun writing in earnest himself. One of his latest ideas: an erotic novel that would help straight men actually understand women. Because after a lifetime of being a gay man surrounded by dearly beloved and best-friend women friends, he knew a lot more about the heart and soul and, yes, even the anatomy, of women. God I loved him.
Not fully believing that he could really be gone, I went to his beloved Facebook page, hoping it was some twisted joke. But no, there I found hundreds of friends pouring out their souls to Dan. Telling stories. Saying goodbye. Talking about how much he’ll be missed. And, again and again, the simple phrase: “I love you Dan.” I love you Dan.
Hollow > Empty > Love > Full
Anger, this time, lasted less than a minute. Not because I’m oblivious to the tragedy of his death. But because in the depths of my emptiness, and feeling utterly hollow, I am—surprise!—fully and wholly present now, here, to remember Dan. I even hear Dan—who was always laughing—still laughing. In large part thanks to his massive community of Facebook friends.
He was amazing. A light in my life. We were so lucky to have him.
And instantly, just like that, my energy came back.
I didn’t need three weeks off. Because this question came:
What happens when we hit fully empty?
I wonder how you’d answer this question. For me, the answer is simple:
Love (including Joy. Laughter. Play. Reminiscing. Release. Relief. Peace). Followed by feeling Full and more Whole again.
We can spend our brief, precious individual lives too busy to think. Too busy to give our full attention to those we love. Too busy to notice that everyone actually is trying to help (even those who piss us off most days). Too busy to notice when the people around us reach out a hand for help. Too busy to notice when we ourselves need help, let alone ask for it. Too busy to notice the million ways, every day, that our universe (or God, if you prefer) stretches out helping hands and voices and thoughts and experiences and images to us to help.
An empty and hollow human heart is an ideal receptacle for love and peace. It’s not something to be scared of, or hidden, or ashamed of, or ignored. It’s something to be shared: filled with laughter and memories and silliness and love. Thanks to everyone I know—and especially to Grady dog, and the people of Newton, Connecticut, and my friend Dan this week—I now know this for sure.
We don’t appear to have much control over when we hit full empty. And I don’t think I’d want that control even if I could somehow practice my way into having it. Because the surprise of becoming empty, and then more empty (surely I’m fully empty now), and then even more empty feels part of an important process of life and growth. And the surprise of what you find in your emptiest, most hollow moments is precious too.
For example, there’s that moment when you realize that your own anger is the only thing standing between your heart feeling empty and hollow and your heart feeling full and at peace.
The only thing.
What a moment that is. A gift.
And then there’s the moment when you realize that you’ve blindly backed your way into understanding yourself again and found a new perspective on what you’re going through:
Hollow > Empty > ? > Love > Full > Whole
Between Empty and Love, there is a moment. What will you give to this moment? For me, today, it’s space for less than one minute of anger. It’s ok to be angry. But I just decided that that’s all the time—Anger—that you will get from me this week. Life is too precious. The memory of those we’ve lost too important. In each moment I get to choose between hearing Dan’s laughter and being angry about his untimely death, I chose Dan. He’s still laughing. And now I’m giggling with him, through my tears. And I find my broken heart full again.
Doodle by Bas. Thanks Bas!