When the world‘s heart shatters again and again and again, I find myself carrying the tears in the cups of my hands, palms upturned like a lotus flower floating on a lake. It’s a serene image, much too serene for the horrors that continue to befall our world, that continue to drop like bombs through the medium of our screens, reminding us that, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, we are wed to one another. The mothers wailing in Texas, the fathers dead in Ukraine, they are us, they live in a shared story in our hearts, our singular human existence. When I hear her wailing the grief rises up in me and it feels like too much, it feels like it’s going to swallow me, as if I am in an ocean and the water has subsumed me, now entering my lungs, now surrounding me bodily.
Wednesday morning I had a window of time and I went for a hike. I watched my fellow Boulderites running up the hills. I don’t run; I walk slowly enough to receive the goodness and grounding of the natural world, the iridescent green hills that flourish from our recent rains, the ancient mountains that rise up around me. I lean my forehead against mother tree, thinking about a blog listener who lives in New Zealand and shared that this is a regular practice among the people there.
I wonder how different our planet might be if every single human made it a regular practice to lean their forehead against the trees and listen. I wonder about the shooter who was bullied in middle school for a speech impediment and his mother, struggling with drug addiction. I wonder what happened to the father. I wonder what might have happened if the boy, in rage and pain, had been taken into the wilderness to be guided by elders, to sit around a fire while he learned how to drum out his stories and channel his pain into song.
I spent the morning in solitude and silence, knowing that my day still lived ahead of me. I would go to the grocery store. I would work. I will pick up my children, gratefully, blessedly, not taking for granted this most simple act: picking up my children at the end of their school day. The anguish enters again as I write that line and I breathe it in. But at some point I must come back to the day. This is not denial; it is how it must be. Like all trauma work, we pendulate into the heart of the volcano and then we swim back out into the marks that punctuate our daily lives rafts. We allow ourselves to fall apart because we trust that we will put ourselves back together again.
I texted my husband from my hike to say good morning and to tell him about the nightmares I had the night before about bombings. I let him into my anguish and he caught me. And a few texts later I said, “In other news, we need more sweatpants for Asher.” Some part of our hearts and brains says that the juxtaposition of anguish and mundanity feels irreconcilable and bizarre. But from what I understand about trauma work – and this applies to collective trauma as well – is that this pendulation between anguish and the ground of regular life allows us to drop into the depths of the pain, to allow our hearts to be seared by the hot lava and oceanic waters of grief because we know that we can come back to solid ground. This is how we allow ourselves to be guided into action by our heartbreak instead of being swallowed by it or becoming numb to it.
I don’t have answers for the pain of our world. But I know that we must stay open to it, to do our best not to harden or numb or look away for too long. I know that we need all hands on deck so that we can traverse what at times feels like an insurmountable mountain. But I believe in humanity. I believe that there is more good than evil in the world, more light than darkness. It seems that we must be pushed to our absolute edge before we rally the forces of change. This is true both individually and collectively. But once we decide to show up, take responsibility, and chart the compass in a new direction, real and necessary change can happen. May it be swift and may it be so.