i go outside in the middle of the night when I wake and can’t get back to sleep or haven’t been yet. It’s been clear at night, a sliver of a moon shining as bright as if it were full, thousands of stars I’m still surprised to see after so many years in a bigger city. I know three constellations and I identify them each every time I’m out there. I look up into the heavens and I try to feel small. I try to feel my insignificance in this great, mysterious universe. But I can’t. Everything inside me feels so big and blinding. It’s an incredible experience to be in a body, to be a human, who in the same blip of a lifetime can find so much meaning and then none at all and, even worse, the memory of what once help so much meaning, like a buoy, like a divine light shining down, with a full and grateful heart.
I’m not alone out here in the deep of night. There are other grievers out here, too. The man across the street, so unfriendly and entitled, he’s taken to coming home late at night, parking and leaning over, crumpled onto the steering wheel. It was warm enough one night that his window was down and I heard him cry out. The unmistakably moan of grief. I know it so well. He’s a big burly man, bald and full of attitude. He hates living across from apartments and all of us taking up parking in front of his house. He’ll block you in just to make his point. Marking his territory. I think maybe his wife died. I have rarely seen her in three and a half years and not at all lately. Maybe it’s his child or his mother, but it’s somone. Someone has left him or will soon, I’m sure of that.
A couple nights ago, it was nearly three am and a truck drove up and parked in front of the park. The person got out, an overweight adult in the darkness, another big old grown up. They stood in the trees for awhile. Just stood there. Then slowly, stopping now and then to stand still, made the short walk to the swings, got on one and pumped their legs until the swing flew back and forth at its capacity for both speed and height. They were there for a while, 45 minutes probably, until they went back into the cab and didn’t leave for a long time, either. I imagine that person, the black shilloute in the dark night, is also grieving or tortured in the particular way that brings a grown up to the playground in the early morning hours to swing like an angry, little kid.
So, we’re out here together and alone, us grievers, us brokenhearted, each in our own way. I pretend to not see them and if they’ve seen me, they pretend they haven’t also. I find a strange and morose comfort in our isolation, sure that we are under the cover of darkness, able to let oursleves cry out in ways we never would under the sun, never outside. Let us do crazy things like swing as high and fast as we can so we can feel something else for a minute. Because we don’t know what else to do with ourselves but crumple and swing and cry out to the cold night, to the moon and the stars and anyone looking down on us, to the uncaring universe who knows nothing of our tiny, unbearable plights.
It’s sacred, really. The nighttime when we are quiet enough to hear what’s happening inside us, to feel all the emotions we’ve been stuffing down all day, to wash away every false smile and look-on-the-bright-side attempts we’ve made that day.
In the early days, I used to wonder what my “new normal” would look like. I used to wonder what people further along in this grief journey meant when they said it never gets better, you just get better at managing it. I’m beginning to see now and I hope these people out here, alone with me, will see it too someday. It’s true that we are never the same. And then there’s that pesky pain of the ability to remember what it was like. The thing we don’t really know about deep grief until we experience it, is that it colors everything that happens after. All of the coming hardships and joys and loss that we will just encounter by being alive, they are all colored by grief. I long for the time when I felt one, pure emotion and I cherish the few times since that I have. In the past three months, I have felt pure and true joy such that is stops me in my tracks and I stop time for moment. Smelling it, tasting it, feeling it, listening to it. I know it will pass but I have it right there for a moment or even several so I bathe myself in it, I drown myself in it, with the hope that it will somehow sink into my pores and into my blood and into my cells so that I might carry it with me, so that it might make its presence known when the next wave comes and knocks me down. It’s the same with grief. Sometimes I go to group, a space reserved for just grieving our children and trying to find our way without them, because the purity of it is a relief. Because there my grief is not all convoluted with everything else. My questions and what I share and my sadness, they are all about Harvey and just Harvey. Having so many losses all at once, having so much trauma in a short period of time, it creates such a complex and layered internal experience. How it colors and informs every situation that arises in life. There is beauty and ease and relief in just one emotion, or even many emotions, but about just one thing.
It’s sacred, this time out here, in the darkness, under the vast sky. It’s a time of purity and it brings us closer. To what? I don’t know. I just know it does and it is. Sacred.