This is the first of four weeks of shared inquiry around grief.
I am trying to metabolize the isolations of this time. I feel the huge zoom-out of awareness that has come with so much coordinated loss. I desire many small ceremonies.
These prompts are an effort to bring a quality of presence to what already is, so that we can recognize and tend the processing we’re doing together. So we can let sticky spirits move through. So we can pre-figure collective transformation. But, mostly, so we can treat as precious what is precious.
If you want accountability or feedback or just to build connection, I would love to hear your reflections. Please join my mailing list, send me an email. This week is a writing prompt; the next weeks will vary in the material in which I invite you to respond.
I include below my own writing about the experience this week that helped me find the prompt. Feel free to read before you do your own inquiry – or to save that receiving for later to give you the most open field to check in with yourself.
Who has shared their grief with you lately?
Consider moments of conflict or confusion inside trusted connections. Consider habitual friction.
Sometimes grief can manifest as anger, disappointment, or an effort to maintain control.
Sometimes grief is the shadow of joy, or threaded through a reach or push: desire, hope, demand.
When someone shared their grief with you, where were you? Did that environment (time/ space) hold you as you tried to connect?
This week, my younger kiddo and I went to Smith and Bybee to wander around together. In the bright canopy of heart-shaped cottonwood leaves, an abundance of birds danced and spoke to each other. A brown bunny ran across the path. The birds sounded like the leaves looked: uncountable, entirely fresh. Under and over the sonic basket of trills and chips and warbles was the low grind and crash of the trains, the steady woosh of Marine Drive, the dopplering airplane sound of air rapidly torn open.
She had asked me to “go on a hike.” She knows this is a connector for us. When she realized where I had brought her, she said, “This is not a hike. I don’t want to walk on pavement. I want to walk on earth and sticks.” As she often feels sick in the car, and we hadn’t packed anything to eat, I had chosen the closest of our regular destinations. I wanted to explain my decision-making process to her (as I just tried to explain it here). I felt this was something I could fix; I wanted her to know I was taking her preferences in. “Next Wednesday we can pack a picnic and go to a waterfall.” Her head remained bowed, her voice behind her mask small and bitten back: “I wanted to be away from people except people who really tried to go there. I wanted to walk on the ground and rocks.”
I let the air move around us. Noticed irritation. Felt impatient. Remembered my tools. Asked, “Are you feeling disappointed?” Her gaze lifted back up.
She led the way down one of the already dusty little paths that goes to the water’s edge. As we bent under branches she talked about the dead little deer we saw curled up with its head on wrong, the last time we were here. When we found the spot, I was not surprised to see it gone. “Someone cleaned it up, I guess,” I said. She stood looking at the bed of earth where that altar to change had been, and was no longer. I noted how the clump of yellow pond Iris on which I saw the very first bloom then – back in March – was now covered in flowers. We sat to watch the Geese parents bend their black necks toward their fuzzy babies as they picked at the short plants along the opposite edge of the water. As we made our way back to the main path, Clara said, “I wanted to go somewhere where when a deer dies it can stay there.”
On the next little diversion, we touched a big tree wrapped with chicken wire. Clara stepped on a big plantain and bent it, then stopped to prop it upright and firm the dirt around. As she was doing this, a neighbor thistle poked her hand. She spoke to them, playfully offended: “I’m sorry, I know you were just defending your friend, but that was rude.” We sat together, watching the reflections break to show tiny fishes making tiny currents in the murk. She said, “I wanted to go somewhere where the trees aren’t wrapped up to keep the beavers from biting them. I know they want to protect the trees, but that’s what beavers like to do.”
We discovered an abandoned bird nest built over a pile of lichen she had stuffed into a tree notch to make a fairy bed six weeks before. She climbed over a branch bridge. Made a caterpillar friend.
Toward the end of our ramble, we came upon a big wooden structure. With interest, she asked, “ooh, what’s that?” I pointed up: “to hold the power lines.” She sighed, her eyes returning to earth. “Oh.” – sarcastic: “Glad that’s here.”
Where the stablizing lines ran into the water, we watched tree swallows loop and dip. I felt her sadness thick like the mud she dug her stick into, unearthing partly decomposed leaf skeletons. I knew she was not only sad that we had taken a different walk than she imagined. Of course, we can call it that. I too want to believe that we can escape the harm. Use our privilege to leave it behind. Plan better next time. Let this place, this day be the problem, the disappointment. As though this marsh weren’t holding us all as well as it possibly could.
Overhead, military jets shredded the atmosphere. We covered our ears. The vibration poured through. The swallows continued to loop. I imagined their little ears. Can they close them? It lasted too long. Finally, the cushing dome of sound moved on, chasing the jets through the sky. I put my arm around my kid. “I’m really sorry, kiddo.” I said, “I want it to be different, between people and the earth.” She leaned into me. “It’s not your fault.”
What she meant was, “let’s not make this about you.” I resisted saying more, about each of us doing our part, capitalism, colonialism, however I might try to explain that she’s right, and still there’s stuff we can do, even if it’s small… She knew the truth. Everything we needed was already there. The chorus of life slowly resumed. I held her. I said, “I’m still really sorry.” And we sat like that, with the grief, til we were ready to go.