Thursday, September 13, 2018

Loss and Transformation

A peace filled morning to you! I hope that wherever you are this week, you remain safe from powerful Hurricane Florence.

On Tuesday I was reading a blog post by Patti Digh. She was reflecting on September 11, 2001 and where we are now as a nation. The post included a list of all the names of the people who died in the attacks in the United States that day. She reads them aloud every year on September 11. I started to read them to myself last night. After an hour I wasn’t even half way through. I've been slowly reading through them all week. It was incredibly moving to read each name, not to skim over them, but to take my time and really hear each name in my head, to take the time to figure out pronunciation where I needed to. I didn’t want to rush. It felt sacred to witness each name. I thought about how many lives each of those people touched. Then I thought about the reach of the grief from the loss of those lives, the number of funerals in such a short period of time. What if you were working from home that day and lost all your officemates? The ripples reaching out from that day are unimaginable.

I remember clearly what that day was like for me, and how confused I felt by how blue the sky was. It was a gorgeous September day with a sky so blue that it hurt your eyes. I couldn’t make sense of that, of how beautiful it was on such a dark day. I was so grateful that I hadn’t driven to DC that morning. I had planned to. My path would have taken me right past the Pentagon right around the time the plane crashed there. I don’t even remember why I decided not to go, I’m just eternally grateful that I didn’t.

I didn’t lose anyone I knew personally that day. Yet the ripples were still felt in my own life. The loss I felt that day and for so many days afterward was great, and in the end transformative. For me the collective grief was palpable. I felt like I was breathing it in every single day. I remember going to New York at the beginning of October that year, and when I came up out of the subway during my visit I knew which direction to go based on where the still rising smoke was. 

One day I reached a point when I just couldn’t cry anymore. So I ignored that feeling of loss, I set it aside and chose not to look at it for a long time. Of course that wasn’t a wise choice. Those feelings just built up behind the dam I had created until the pressure was too much and the dam gave way. What flowed over the dam were words. They flowed forth in a way I had never experienced before. They flowed forth in poetry, in prose, in torrents. That flood of words transformed my life. One day I wasn’t a writer, and the next day I was. It was a gift of immense proportions for me. I discovered such joy, release, discovery, wisdom, and wonder in the process of writing, which for me is really the process of listening. Yet, I was frustrated by how something so beautiful could flow from something so terrible, because I truly could draw a line directly from September 11, 2001 to the day that dam burst.

So when I read all those names last night, I felt sadness and gratitude mixed together. I was grateful for the ripples those lives made in my life even though we never knew each other. The love that the people they knew felt for them, and so the grief they felt at their loss touched my heart, and it was transformed. It’s a little uncomfortable to feel anything even near gratitude in the face of such tragedy. Yet, in a way, their loss gave me new life, and I will always feel that, in a small way, I honor them through the sharing of the words that move through me. Their lives continue to make ripples through me. I hope that wherever they are now, they feel my gratitude and smile at the ripples as they continue to move ever outward.

Now I’m grateful to Patti as well, for an opportunity to reflect on both the loss, and the transformation it gave birth to.

May the remainder of your week be illuminated by gratitude, and may you be safe from the impact of Florence.