All week I’ve been looking forward to the long run I had planned for yesterday – Good Friday – expecting fewer people to be out and about since it was a weekday.
I woefully miscalculated, and found myself tense and anxious as I tried to dodge runners, walkers, bikers and oncoming traffic through Golden Gate Park. When I finally reached Ocean Beach, ready to take advantage of the wide open space of empty parking lots to run wild and free, my right knee gave way with sharp pain. All the start/stop of the previous 3.5 miles had aggravated my inflamed IT band and I couldn’t go on. I stopped in the middle of an abandoned parking lot next to Ocean Beach rubbing my knee and started to cry.
I cried because I was frustrated, that something I love and brings me joy wasn’t working. I cried from fear that I would get injured and wouldn’t be able to run or walk – the only things keeping me sane and tamping down my anxiety these days. I cried because I was exhausted from a fitful sleep the night before – and all the nights before that since shelter in place started – as I woke up every 3 hours to try to place a grocery delivery order and my sleep was interrupted by intense dreams of trying to find my family and we kept missing each other (no one needs a PhD in psychology to interpret that one). I cried because in that moment I felt the full weight of the brokenness – in my life and in the world – crashing down on me.
As I stared at the ocean and watched a smattering of masked people walk their dogs and avoid each other, all I could think was “everything is so broken”
The cornerstones of my life – joyful, free runs to the ocean, scooping up baby Benjamin and kissing his chubby cheeks, hugging my friends, happy hour, my morning walk to the office – the rhythms and patterns that gave shape to my life “before” are broken.
I stared at the water and thought about NYC, a place I lived for five years that profoundly shaped who I am and is still home to some people I love with all my heart, and is so broken right now. Every article I read about overcrowded hospitals and every image I see of Central Park transformed into a field hospital – New York is breaking my heart. Broken.
I thought about all the hopes and dreams and plans – the weddings and graduations and anniversaries and family vacations – that aren’t happening anymore now.
I thought about the doctors and nurses and staff on the front lines who are used to practicing medicine in a country where – for the most part – there are enough supplies for themselves and their patients. I thought about the mental and physical and emotional toll of suddenly confronting a broken system, and being forced to make choices no healer should ever have to make. About the constant fear of infecting themselves and their families.
I thought about the families grieving the loss of a parent or child or sibling or grandparent or friend or neighbor, at the intensely personal loss of a loved one in the midst of this global pandemic, of trying to grieve when you can’t gather for a memorial service or experience the comfort of hugs and casseroles and flowers from your community.
I thought about the people who are sick – men and women, young and old, rich and poor – feeling physically terrible and likely terrified as their bodies fight an illness that is unlike anything they’ve experienced before, at home fearful of infecting loved ones or in hospitals where their families can’t visit them.
I stared at the ocean and I felt that weight and I thought about how the most helpful framing to me these past weeks has been the language of grief (Brene Brown’s podcast episode on this is also extraordinary).
Our world is in mourning – we are mourning the loss of “normal,” of the rhythms of our everyday lives that I know I took for granted. We are mourning the loss of the things we counted on – seeing our loved ones, going to work, leaving our homes without fear. We are mourning the loss of our collective innocence in some ways – of a way of life we thought we could count on. Nothing feels certain anymore.
When my dad died and I was trying to make sense of the thousands of things I was feeling, a framework that helped me so much was this – “We grieve because we lost something good.”
We live in a society that is largely ill at ease with grief. Tears and pain make us uncomfortable – we try to shoo away the untidy, messy, raw edges of pain, put on smiling faces and say “I’m doing fine, how are you?”
But honest grieving honors the preciousness of the things we lost.
The hugs and normalcy and celebrations and health and peace of our lives that have been lost in this pandemic – they are so good and so worthy of the honor of grieving them. I’m not going to try to minimize their worth by pretending their loss doesn’t bring us to our knees with grief.
And yesterday, as I was feeling the weight of the loss and the pain and the brokeness I was also staring at the wild and fierce and constant roast of the vast Pacific ocean. I as staring at the waves crashing against the rocks and seagulls flying overhead and white foamy delicate layers of seawater lapping at the shore and through the blur of my tears and heaviness of my heart I thought “God, this is beautiful.”
Our world is so broken – it’s always been broken, and this pandemic is a magnifying glass on that brokenness. On injustice and frail health and how we stack rank the value of human life depending on race and class and socioeconomic status.
Our world is so beautiful – it’s always been beautiful, and this pandemic is a magnifying glass on that beauty. On love and new life and natural wonder and human connection, as people tap into the depths of their creativity and passion, as I lock eyes and exchange smiles with strangers on the street, as Spring blooms and every ray of sun and flower bud feels like a balm to our souls.
Yesterday was Good Friday, a day in the Christian tradition when we honor Christ’s death on the cross. What a paradox, to call a day when we remember death and despair “good.” To live in that in-between space, believing that hope is coming, joy is coming, resurrection life is coming,
The cornerstone of my faith is that the brokenness is real, the pain is real, the grief and mourning and loss and heartbreak – they are all so, so real. But hope is real-er.
So tomorrow as I celebrate Easter without the rituals of gathering together at church and warm hugs and a family meal around a table together, I’m going to feel the weight of what is broken, and grieve what is lost because it is good. And I’m going to feel the warmth of the sun and connect by phone with the people I love and savor the taste of the blackberry cinnamon rolls I’m still planning to make, because some traditions are stronger than pandemics. (And I still have yeast and flour at my house which is a true Easter miracle). And I’m going to celebrate because there is still so much that is good.
I’m going to let my laughter mingle with my tears, honor the weight of the grief and find solace in the hope that sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Happy Easter, dear friends.