While sitting in my favorite spot by the water, the last beams of sunlight warming my skin, I read these words (written by Lisa Gungor in her book The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen) -
“But I’ve found my life is built on ordinary days of going in and coming out… This is where I’ve found grandness. This is where I’ve found what I believe about life and where I’ve found myself applauding others instead. It’s in long nights on a good porch, letting the silence sit next to you. It’s the hard things that hit or the people who teach, giving you eyes to see.”
I read these words and memories came flooding back, along with a few tears.
Suddenly, I am back in my grandparent’s kitchen drinking Irish breakfast tea and eating cinnamon rolls my aunt made. My aunt. Rhonda. Ten years later, I still feel the pain of loss gripping me as I think about her. I hold space for it a moment. Take a breath and let it go.
Who Am I
I often wonder who am I to talk to people about pain - something so personal and unique to an individual. Then, I am reminded of the impact others have had on my life while I am walking through (or drowning in) hard times.
Being present and allowing someone to process their emotions helps them see they are not alone. That is the most important gift we can give a person who is hurting.
Pain and loss can cause a crushing amount of destruction in our lives. So much that we feel we can never be the same. And we won't, really. Pain changes us. It takes something away from the person we were, burning through us like a fire through the forest, but it does not mean we can never feel restored.
I was having a conversation, recently, with a friend who has suffered great loss. She expressed to me the desire to share hope with others, but is struggling to know how when she cannot find hope in the situation for herself.
This conversation made me question the ideas we have constructed around pain and loss. There seems to be this expectation that we will grieve for a period, accept what has happened as happening for a reason, then have this great “aha” moment as to how we can use our grief for good.
The harm in this mindset is that it rushes the grieving process, creating a sense of necessity to find a lesson in our loss. In my experience, this causes more anger and anxiety than peace as people try to wrestle with the reason for tragedy.
I’ve heard it all - from the perspectives of Southern Baptists, anyway.
“For everything there is a reason.”
“This will make sense on the other side of heaven.”
“Your story will bring God glory.”
Maybe you find comfort in those statements. I am writing for those who do not, who, instead, find themselves angry and in doubt - wondering how it is possible to find hope in the midst of tragedy.
Grief is not like a fable from which you must decipher the theme. Grief is a complex emotion in which exists the sorrow and pain of, as well as the joy of having known, what is now gone.
We must take the time necessary to process our grief and everything that comes with it - pain, anger, loneliness, absence. For me, being honest with close friends about where I was and spending time alone in nature was helpful in moving forward. Meditation, prayer, journaling, and therapy are other valuable approaches.
I did not start out knowing what path I should take to find healing, though. For a while I just needed to grieve. This process looks different for everyone. The important thing to remember is - you can take all the time you need.
"The apparent destruction of a disturbance is in fact an act of renewal, provided the balance is right"
- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gathering Moss
I read this in a book about moss and was struck by how beautifully it relates to us.
Have you ever walked through the forest after a fire? Everything is gnarled and blackened, all signs of life seemingly snuffed out. But, from the ashes, new life will flourish. Eventually, the only evidence left of the disturbance is a burn scar on a log. What looked like absolute destruction was an act of renewal.
It is possible to find renewal through our pain, to allow it to create in us space for something new. We just have to open ourselves up. That is the hard part. It is difficult to sit with our hurt, but remarkably healing when we can.
In the end, the burn scars will still be there, but they tell a story of resilience and hope - a story of renewal, not destruction.
Pain Has Its Place
I spent years seeking to understand why hard things happen. The conclusion I came to probably is not satisfying to most. It is simply that pain has its place in this life.
I will not wax philosophical about how, without pain, we would not be able to truly appreciate joy. Neither will I turn to theology to explain to you that pain exists because of original sin. I have not yet decided what I believe about pain, except what I told you previously - it has its place.
I have come to understand a couple of things about pain, though. I should not ignore it, but I also do not have to let it consume me. I can sit with my grief as long as I need, then let go. What is left is not the overwhelming feeling of sadness I felt before, but gratitude for having known such an extraordinary soul.
The Hope We Have
Rhonda taught me a lot in her life and I am learning even more from her life. It can be something as simple as a joke I did not understand when I was younger, but now I can laugh about. Or, Shakesphere, whose writing I now find enjoyable to read. Occasionally, it is something grander in scale - such as, how she shaped me to see the world, to find magic in the ordinary.
Some people look at the world without really seeing it.
Some people look at other people without really seeing them, too.
Rhonda understood what most of us miss - everything belongs.
Rhonda understood what most of us miss - everything belongs.
This is where I have found hope - in understanding more and more, as the years progress, about who she was and what she taught me. I did not see it in the midst of my early grief, you probably will not either, but if you are looking for hope - for yourself and for others - I think it can be found in what the ones we have lost left us with.
I am not talking about material items or grand, life-altering actions. I am talking about the ordinary, day to day moments we often overlook. A word spoken, a story told, or perhaps, eating cinnamon rolls in the kitchen where you spent most of your childhood.
Magic In The Ordinary
Other memories surface, ones of laughter and telling stories, sitting on the porch with my best friend and love of my life, watching my niece and seeing the world anew through her eyes. Everything is wonderful and full of possibility when you are two years old. She sees magic in the ordinary. I think she is teaching me to see it again, too - this time in the present, rather than the past.
I feel the warmth of the last rays of sunlight on my skin. I say a quiet thank you for the cinnamon rolls, love of literature, all the jokes I still laugh about and teaching me how to see the world instead of just looking at it.
I feel the lightness of hope. I let it make space within me for something new. I take a breath and hold on.