I See You

curious2119ffsl To my friends who are parents or have wanted to be parents and have tasted the loss of a child or children, directly or indirectly.

I want you to know that I have no way of knowing or understanding the depths of your loss. That I have no advice or prescriptions or platitudes for you. No fixes. No solutions.

I want to simply say that I see you.

I see you, and I know that you sport a certain scar that will never fully leave, whether it's been months or decades.

You carry with you something you let very few of us see.

The grief of hopes and expectations frozen in place.

The whiplash in your neck from moving with such great anticipation of life to halting to a stop in the void of it.

The fear, the anxiety, the dread of the thought of trying again.

The moments, days, even seasons of canyons and chasms between you and your partner as you each deal in your own ways.

The knot in your stomach, the gritted teeth when someone asks you why you haven't had kids, or another kid, yet.

The white-hot fire that flares up which you keep under control when someone suggests you are selfish for not having kids.

The frustration you feel when you read yet another news story of someone who abuses their privilege as a parent while you are still left without.

The dagger that sticks you as you read another post of a happy couple with the happy news you wanted to have.

The shame that constricts your chest for feeling jealous of those couples.

The little things--a date on the calendar, a scent, a line in a movie, an item in the grocery store, a family at the park, a balloon, a sound, a song, the family picture that could be three instead of two, four instead of three--that bring your grief rushing back momentarily like brain freeze.

The nights of restlessness.

The feeling of powerlessness.

The questions.

The doubts.

The anger.

The sorrow.

The hundreds of little things that I and most other people in your life will never see, hear, or know.

Even with those secrets, I see you. I see you carry all of it. I see this part of your story.

I want you to know that when I see you, I see strength. Even if you haven't felt strong, you are. And you blow my mind.

I see life. I see life in you and the way you love people. I see life around you in the way people love you because of who you are. I see life ahead of you because there is so much in store for you.

With all your joy and grief,

your laughter and hidden tears,

your hope and anxiety,

your strength and your scars,

I see you.

Grief Demands an Answer

"Grief demands an answer, but sometimes there isn't one." I was watching House of Cards when a character said those words. It was Friday night, February 14th. The new season of the show released that day, and I had decided to enjoy my VD--uh, Valentine's Day--by marathoning some of Frank Underwood's devious dealings with a French press of Dominican coffee, chocolate chip cookies, and a pint of Ben and Jerry's Half Baked. Living on the edge.

Grief demands an answer.

The words made me pause; they landed not too far from some truth in my life. Not because it was Valentine's Day, and there I was by myself. Ironically, despite the saturation of red-themed everything or the flood of romantic tributes on social media, I've felt no ill will toward the holiday at any point. It doesn't matter to me what the origin of the day is or how commercialized or overplayed it is--I like it. I like what it can mean and can be for people who make the most of the opportunities it presents to love each other.

Even if I have little to no role to play in it these days.

99% of the time, I walk around in a pretty good mood for your average guy. But there have been moments, flashes, in which my jaw tightens. I may have been in the middle of humming to some happy tune, or reading an article about people going to live on Mars, and suddenly, grief is there with me.

It wants to know why. Always why. Not how. I know how; I've studied it. I have a phd in how. Grief grips me, desperate and confused, and demands its answers.

Sometimes I entertain grief. I wonder aloud with it. I draft up long, complicated conspiracy theories, and everyone is a suspect. I concoct interpretations that would take Peter Jackson more than a trilogy to tell on film. I write epic tales that skip with a scarecrow, tin man, and lion down the road to a happy ending.

No matter how fanciful or rational an explanation I develop, no matter how scared I am or how hopeful I am of the real answer, I always sober up and face this reality:

Grief demands an answer, but sometimes there isn't one.

Or, at least, there's no way of knowing for sure.

How do you satisfy the burning queries of grief, then? How do you learn to walk after loss cripples you? How do you get back what was stolen from you? How do your eyes adjust to the light after you've been held captive in a dark cell for years?

For me, three things:




Sometimes one feels more important than the other. Sometimes I hate one or all three. But I need them all. More importantly, there are no easy answers found there.

They may not be enough to keep grief at bay once and for all, but they are enough, for now.

The Myth of Superman (and Me)

Before Batman was my favorite superhero, I pledged my allegiance to Superman. It's offensive to my enlightened mind now, but when I was five...forget about it. Superman was the best. I wore towel-capes and Superman outfits everywhere. To my mother's horror, I would find a way to jump off everything I could in attempt to fly: the couches, the tables, the piano, and over the railing of the stairs.

My superhero sensibilities eventually matured (and yes, I'm fully aware that my choice of the word "mature" is saturated in and dripping with irony). You know what made me grow weary of Superman? He was too perfect. Sure, the kryptonite was a glaring (and annoying) weakness, but come on. The guy is indestructible. He's super strong. He can fly. He can reverse time by flying around Earth super fast and changing its direction. Anyone who is a scientist can allow for a certain suspension of disbelief in comic books and movies, but reversing the rotation of Earth to turn back time? Come on, man. That doesn't even...never mind.

On the other hand, consider a hero like Batman: human. Mortal. Vulnerable. He bleeds. He's an orphan, a tortured soul.

That's a guy I can relate with. And just as my taste in superheroes changed, so has what I've come to appreciate in people I respect.

I've become less and less impressed with any "hero," any leader, any role model who seems too perfect. You know them. You've seen them. Always strong, always virtuous, always impenetrable.

The problem is that I've watched way too many of them fall. I've seen their flawless statues crumble. Their glossy coats of paint flake and chip to reveal the brittle, rusted shell underneath. We don't live in a universe with a Superman. This is real life. And in real life, even the best of us can only hope to be a Batman--flawed and vulnerable with maybe enough smarts, gadgets, and tricks to make up for our shortcomings.

I bring this up because I was talking to a friend last week about everything I'm processing in my life right now (which is far from perfect, by the way.). At one point, he mentioned having "the freedom to grieve."

The freedom to grieve.

Those words struck me like flint on steel. There's a battle constantly raging inside me--I have the desire to be vulnerable, to live my life free and open, to be human. But I also have an almost involuntary compulsion to try to be Superman. To not bend under pressure. To brush away bullets like harmless gnats. To have buildings collapse on me and raise myself up from the rubble, unfazed.

One of the ways I do this is by plowing forward with a Superman schedule. It's been so easy for me to distract myself from grieving the pain of some things in my life. I have a full-time job, teaching, that demands that I put on a brave face, that requires me to concern myself with the struggles and problems of 114 students, that demands even more from me than the eight hours I spend in the building. I have another job at the church. I have two graduate classes I take at night. I'm in a volleyball league. I write. I read. I connect with friends. Oh, and there's that thing, the internet. (Why is YouTube so great and so terrible for me at the same time?)

No time to stop. No time to slow down. No time to notice the damage. I've tried to blaze through the trials of my life like a super-human when in fact I'm a frail, vulnerable, and mortal being. I sometimes overvalue the virtue of strength. Or, more accurately, the appearance of strength.

I pretend that the bullets have bounced off, and I keep marching. It's not until later that I discover that I'm bleeding; the bullets have buried themselves in my body.

I usually try to find my strength in appearing to be strong. I don't think that's where strength comes from, though.

True strength isn't found in bravado or a denial of weakness. It's not declaring invincibility to being shaken or rattled, wounded or crippled. True strength is when we can own up to our vulnerability before our false sense of confidence sinks us. It recognizes our need for the cyclical nature of human pain and recovery, much like our muscles when we exercise. We exert stress and strain on our muscles, and they tear. Then they need rest, and when they have repaired themselves, they are stronger than before.

When we fall, we need to grieve our pain, and then we can start to heal, to mend ourselves, to stand up out of the rubble and move forward. And ultimately, we'll be stronger than before.

I'm not even sure what grieving looks like for me. But I'll start fumbling with the process by saying this:

I am not Superman. I'm not as strong as I thought I was or pretend to be. I can't carry the world on my shoulders. I've absorbed a lot of hits in the last few years, and I'm now noticing the wounds and the broken bones I've accumulated. And it's okay that I have them.

Even the simple act of writing those words is freeing.

Surprisingly, it feels much better to be human than it does to be super-human.