not the worst


This month, this season, was a wretched wild animal, a coarse-haired coyote that sometimes, just sometimes, curled up sweetly next to me, pushing ever closer to me, its heartbeat tangible against my ribs. When I look back long from now, I wonder if I will see a defined end point. Is it when he woke up? Is it when I get laid off? Is it when I make a decision to drive across this huge country again? It’s consuming when I let it be and occasionally when I don’t. Even today – in the midst of feeling lighter and lighter – I’m sitting in a paper gown covered with a paper blanket in a doctor’s office with a mind that won’t stop. I am just a few blocks from his hospital. I am restless.

The doctor comes in and says Don’t you hate this? I tell him yeah, it’s not the best, and the paper crinkles uncomfortably, but he’s a human, a soul- and heart-filled human who tells me he’s been to all the national parks and Yosemite is his favorite and has it been smoky up there? and gosh, you’re a long way from home and how’d you get here? We find shared ground to stand on as two complete strangers, our characters unlikely to ever interact in any other context, and it makes it not the worst, it keeps it in the realm of okay.

It has all been okay entirely because of these tiny or immense human connections, every day, every hour, and most minutes, through all of this, one of hardest truths I have had to carry. I’ve been unbelievably lucky and have been left mostly untouched by tragedy and grief in my life, so this was a river to wade through. I know there will be more, many, many more, many that are bigger and deeper and fiercer and feel more impossible to wade through. But I am hopeful that between them will be joyful, golden meadows, full of yellow aspens or red maples. And flowering dogwoods, of course, plenty of flowering dogwoods. I have to believe this.

C.S. Lewis writes,

I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with toothache, thinking about toothache and about lying awake.’ That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief. Do these notes merely aggravate that side of it? Merely confirm the monotonous, treadmill march of the mind round one subject? But what am I to do? I must have some drug, and reading isn’t a strong-enough drug now. By writing it all down I believe I get a little outside it.

Donald Miller writes about telling a story with your life. But there’s another layer of depth to it that I’m turning over often in my head these days. We choose the way to write our story, not just in the way we live, but the way we remember it, the way we react to it, the way we show up for it and engage with it. And the way we document it.

Kate Rokowski writes,

Nothing ever ends poetically. It ends and we turn it into poetry. All that blood was never once beautiful. It was just red.

I’m starting to think it goes both ways — we find a way to turn things more beautiful, or more terrible, or give them more or less color. To a certain extent, they can be as heavy or as light as we decide. It feels powerful, open, hopeful. We can choose what to assign meaning to. Maybe, maybe not. Today this thought feels hopeful, so I’ll take it. I will write today this way: framed in its opening and closing by Tunnel View, Half Dome looking like a little baby in the center of the valley, a kind doctor, a new pair of glasses, a plate of Thai food, a handful of Facebook messages exchanged with you – our first real conversation since you’ve been awake, Ryan Adams’ 1989 on repeat, and a pink sunset at moonrise. That’ll do.

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