This process continues to unfold. The year of mourning, the focus on grief. The idea behind this project. Only the process took much longer than a year. In fact, this is an experiment that will never end. I gave myself over to the sadness, to the pain. I faced a thousand horrors and refused to look away, I let all the destruction and suffering wash in. I did not turn away. And it very nearly washed me away.
I wanted to see what would happen if I stopped living in denial about the state of the world. I needed to know what would happen if I stopped stuffing the pain away and let it swell up to the surface.
I forced myself to look at all the terrible photos, to read the news articles, to see the destruction in my own town, in my own life. I felt the pain of the earth and all her creatures. I wrote about it, I sang about it, I talked about it. I cried, I sobbed, I screamed, I lay on the ground and stared up at the stars.
Honestly it broke me. I very nearly lost sight of what is beautiful and what is good. My life fell apart in a number of different ways. And I’m not just talking emotionally. Over the course of The Year experiment and since, I lost my home. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I very nearly lost my dear nephew due to a custody struggle. We dealt with crippling poverty. Wil and I struggled to deal with the stress. Our marriage suffered. I felt like a wasn’t able to be the kind of mother I wanted to be.
It also frightened me. I wondered if I had brought the disasters on myself. If I had invited them in by asking sorrow to come sit at my table. By opening myself to the grief of the world, had I welcomed in darkness itself?
I felt swallowed. I couldn’t deal with anything else. The earth was in collapse and now my personal life was too? I couldn’t take it.
I felt angry all the time. I had terrible anxiety and couldn’t sleep at night. I felt like I was burning up inside, on fire, yet chilled and shivering at the same time.
My soul was gripped by fever.
I cried and cried and cried. My heart hurt all the time.
I had finally collapsed.
But then slowly, something started to shift. Something in me started to move. I realized I had been holding on too tight.
To the way I wanted the world to be. To the life I thought I should have. To the dreams of my childhood. To the idea that I could change things. To the desire to change the world. Exhausted from trying to control a million things I could not, I gave up.
And guess what happened? Sweetness started to slowly creep back into my life. Who cared where we were living? At least I was surrounded by family, my nephew, my beautiful son, and Wil, my love. What difference did it make how I thought the world should be? The world is the way it is. What good were the dreams of my childhood if I had completely lost track of my inner child? What was the point of wanting to change the world if I had lost sight of all of the parts that were worth saving?
I started to love again, without anger, without sadness. I swam in the creeks, had mud fights with my boys, listened to the cicadas, walked barefoot through the forests.
But I am still raw. My heart is still broken. I have had to remember how to play, how to have fun. I am in recovery. From grief, from mourning. From sadness, and stress. From civilization itself. I try to do something each day that brings me pleasure. I create. I sculpt flowers. I crochet. I cook. I sweep the floor. I do the dishes. I cuddle my son. I eat chocolate. I drink coffee. I spend endless hours in the woods and meadows. I found a job working with children in the most lovely and nurturing setting I can imagine. It’s incredibly healing. Revel accompanies me there. It is beautiful. I am happy.
It’s autumn now and the sky is very blue. I can’t believe how blue it is. On the way to work we pass miles of soybean fields. They have turned a beautiful golden yellow. They are dazzling against the blue sky. They are also covered in poison. They are round-up ready soybeans drenched in glyphosate. They are terrible. But, they are also beautiful, and I can’t deny it.
Now that I have learned how to the feel the pain of the world I can never un-feel it. I hold the destruction and suffering in my heart all the time. I turn it over and over in the palm of my hand like a smooth rock, worn by years of touch. It is familiar. The rhinos are almost gone. There are children sold into slavery every single day. The elephant population continues to dwindle. The climate is changing. I am raising my son in a contaminated world. All of these things are true.
But the world is also beautiful. So beautiful it leaves me breathless. My child’s brown and silky curls. The blue of the sky. The yellow of the soybeans. The wind on my skin. The delight of bare feet on the ground. The fields, the forests, the animals, and the plants. The oceans.
How to hold it all?
You know what I’ve found?
The answer is not to try. Don’t hold it. Let each moment, each emotion wash through you like a wave.
The soybeans are terrible but also beautiful. Do not try to understand it, the world we have created does not make sense no matter how hard you try to examine it. Trying to do so will only break your mind, and your spirit.
Our civilization is broken. It is sick. Our culture is one of oppression. But it is also where and how we live.
We are the captives but also the captors. The prisoners, and the ones who hold the key.
We are the predators, and yet also the prey.
This kind of grief doesn’t end. It goes on and on and on. There are no easy answers or simple fixes. There is an endless list of things to be angry about. But we also have an endless capacity for love. One thing does not cancel out the other.
There is a culture of rebellion growing. It has been here all along and it is strong. This is a time of great awakening. But a very long road lies ahead.
This life is beautiful, terrible, powerful, and wonderful. We are only small, like children. Lost in a wild and stormy sea.
May the waves wash through you.
May the waves wash through you, my friend.
Thank you for listening,
photo by Michelle Johnsen