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.