Last weekend I had the eerie experience of hearing and seeing a large wall of rain mere feet from where I stood while I remained perfectly dry beneath a clear sky. I stood there transfixed for several beats, wondering how long the universe would spare me. Not long, it turned out. Soon I was doused and running for cover.
We had just arrived at a campsite atop an oceanside cliff where we’d be spending the weekend with five other coupled-up friends with young children. When the rain hit, our three year-old had been helping my husband set up our tent, and got frightened by the panic that ensued – children screaming and wildly running for cover. He’d been groggy after the long car ride, the campsite probably a bit different than the “forest” he’d envisioned. The rain was messing with his already fragile three year-old equilibrium. It took awhile to settle him down.
I’ve been struggling to think of something worth writing about this week. My thoughts have been mostly consumed with various challenges friends in our close community are facing – children with critical health problems, spouses with terminal illness, aging parents, birthing/parenting without support. I spent several days writing stream-of-conscious thoughts about the camping trip, but it read like trivial confessions to a therapist. Like a sculptor working with a stubborn clump of clay, I’ve been trying to will something worth saying, but feel instead there’s something I should be doing.
I came across this article titled the Three Kinds of Grief Nobody Talks About. I agree that all are valid and under-acknowledged human experiences. One type of grief described is “anticipatory grief,” referring to the grief experienced when you know loss is imminent, such as with the diagnosis of a terminal illness. I believe we feel a breath of that ominous grief whenever we find ourselves in a happy union. Eventually it will end somehow. Loss will come whether it’s by death or separation or change.
As a young adult, I experienced loss mostly as separation. After a decade of living like a nomad, it is a strange, warm feeling to be part of an extended community. I finally understand the appeal of gardening and running for county office. Community is like family multiplied. The stresses are intensified but so too are the joys. Any moments of peace and relaxation on our weekend camping trip were mere punctuation marks amidst long expanses of lost shoes, so-and-so taking something or hitting someone, and agonizing about how to get coffee. But there was also great camaraderie, laughs, always a playmate to be had and plenty to intervene when there was blood, tears, or a toddler running for the hills. Fires were built, balls were tossed, drinks were drunk. Burdens were shared.
The past few years have felt like grief is the eerie wall of rain just feet away. It’s sparing me for now, but wreaking havoc on many around me. I don’t know if it’s a product of living maturing, more complicated lives or that my community is growing and with that growth comes more heartbreak or if it’s the barrage of GoFundMe campaigns circulated on social media. I suppose it’s a combination of all of it. The Buddha first noticed the rain wall of suffering when, as a young prince, he ventured outside his comfortable confines and was struck by so much human misery surrounding him. Thus, the First Noble Truth of Buddhism teaches that all life is suffering. We don’t have to venture anywhere beyond our Facebook feeds to find it.
So what do I do? For now, keep appreciating the joys, keep cherishing the loves, keep nurturing the community. I will surely fall short. I rarely have the right comforting words, I don’t contribute to every GoFundMe campaign, my meal train contributions are not super sophisticated (i.e., tater tot hot dish). But my friends can count on me to force us to take a group photo, because dammit, we’re not getting any younger or skinnier and who knows about happier. And when the rain wall of grief comes, I can find a hand to hold while we run for cover.