26 Jan A matter of life and death
I have been writing this post for months. It is an idea i can’t get away from. But I find the big truths hard to articulate.
It is about life and death.
About how the whole of my life here on this earth, is a series of little deaths and re-births. A never-ending procession of darkness and then slowly, the light again.
The stuff I have been stumbling through over the last few years has been one huge mess of an ending, and slowly, cautiously, I have turned the first page of a new book.
At some point, and it happened gradually at first, I became aware of the stench of decay. Acknowledged the stultifying slow burn towards collapse; the way I was headed. I began to recognise the imprisoning thoughts and mindsets that caused me pain and made me ill. And then gradually, I awoke into the light of a new day, a new year. With things to learn and places to explore.
If I’m not careful, on a good day,
when the sun is shining and life is pretty tickety-bo before the complications that come from being human, have scribbled over and spoilt the first page, i can think that i have arrived.
That i have made it. That forevermore there will only be daylight.
But life isn’t all resurrection: new day, fresh light, clear thoughts.
It is also death, and pain, and conflict and trials.
In my enjoyment of the-newness-of -everything I can forget about the tough bits. And when, inevitably, they arrive I am shocked and scared again.
When things are good it is so tempting to begin to think that if i behave well enough, try hard enough, am careful enough, that i can avoid pain. As though somehow it is within my control to make my life work out just the way I want.
Don’t get me wrong, i would love to think that i have beaten depression and that i will never know paralysing anxiety again. But this optimistic thought is not helpful.
compulsion desire for perfection; for every day to go my-way, is actually the most dangerous thing of all. I am human and there are limits to my powers. A lot Some of the time I cannot even control what goes on in my own mind. I am fragile and vulnerable and weak. We all are.
And this is how it is, and how it should be.
(And if anyone wants to argue this point with me – I’m up for a fight about what i see as the dangerous addiction to and dominance of ‘success narratives’ in our Western individualistic society)
I’m trying to remember that this is what life is:
A list, a collection, a procession, of dying and being reborn.
And it is only when I acknowledge this reality – that i can learn to look the messy bits square in the face.
If i try to immunise myself from the difficult, sometimes agonising, parts of life then i never learn, i never grow. I can not be honest. My words will be trite platitudes and cliches.
Many months ago a friend hurt me. And I caused her pain. There was no quick fix. We were tender and there would be scars. There was a long period – months – where we didn’t risk contact. We were circumspect and careful. Then slowly, as wounds healed and the flesh of the relationship regenerated (as it can if you don’t get hard and bitter and gnarled), we started smiling at each other. Braving conversation. Building trust.
It’s delicate still, fresh and fragile, but alive again. A painful, sudden and unexpected death in a relationship, and the gradual process of it coming back to life.
Last summer, I lived with an astonishing amount of peace. Then one day out of the blue calm, a panic attack struck. A sudden and overwhelming lack of control, and heart-racing, can’t-catch-my-breath fear. Like a sudden illness (for that is what it is) I was struck down. Communication with anyone became difficult – impossible – and I went under. I was suddenly submerged. Drowning. And then… I got an hour on my own, in the sunshine, some rest for my scrambled head, and calm began to be slowly restored.
I awoke feeling a tiny bit hopeful. The crashing dark night, and then, on the horizon, the dawn.
When Matt’s Dad died, unexpectedly and heartbreakingly, a couple of years ago, it felt like death was all.
We drove across the country to spend time with family to mourn and remember. As we drove back through the night my phone pinged with a text. A great friend had given birth to a much longed for baby boy.
Another friend of mine recently described how after the agonising death of her sister, her friends’ baby was able to bring her comfort when the words of her friends could not.
It seems to be this way. As though there is an exact amount of pain and endings it is possible to cope with in one day, and that we need someone brand new to remind us we can still be hopeful. To carry on.
The seasons know this truth and remember it year after year.
Spring follows Winter. Autumn follows Summer. A season for everything.
The leaves turn red and brown, they die and fall to the ground. And then we wait. Then the buds appear once again.
It is the key image in my faith. Death and resurrection. The central truth that everything else hangs on and understands itself in relation to.
Pain and hope.
Before and after.
Desire and the completion.
Now and yet-to-be.
Life is complicated.
And this reality of life follows death, follows life follows death, should be depressing. To look at it head on and see that life contains a lot of pain and struggle.
But, the more i have faced this truth, the less it scares me.
By acknowledging the bits that hurt and are messy, I can also truly see the moments of joy and beauty.
And seeing that sometimes pain and joy sit side by side enables me to engage with things that i could not experience or understand whilst i was trying to pretend life was all sunshine-and-roses.
It is when i try and ignore or avoid the difficulties that inevitably arise, when i attempt to immunise myself from the things that will hurt me, then i am blindsided and overwhelmed. When i see life for the rich and messy banquet that it is, then that I get to plunder it all for truth and wisdom and beauty… and even though it still hurts, I’m not
always so afraid of the pain.