learning to dance with the limp
I’m still afraid of the dark. Not in the traditional way, maybe; I love being outdoors under the stars, and I can walk across my apartment with the lights off. I prefer candles over fluorescent, the cool of dusk versus the heat of the day, and I will forever cherish visions of bonfires, s’mores, and family time as the sun sets over St. George.
But there is a darkness I still fear. I fear loss. I fear remembering things I don’t wan’t to remember, and reliving memories I wish I had never made. I fear a world that is uncontrollable and often unexplainable. I fear loneliness, and having to be strong again someday when I’m not ready to be.
I’ve had these fears for many years. And I’m glad to say, that as time as gone on, they have softened. I have opened myself up to the reality that pain is part of the human experience. That loss is inevitable. That doesn’t mean I cope with it well - or even at all - but I am opening my chest. Taking in deep breaths.
I used to tell my counselor that I would lay in bed, curled in the fetal position, and be terrified of laying on my back, my arms spread wide. Like if I exposed my heart and my chest like that, surely all safety would be lost. That level of vulnerability felt like walking into a crossfire. And I still feel that way, sometimes. Like the world has kept turning, but I’ve seen a great unraveling over the past ~10+ years, and my heart might burst at any moment.
Maybe the darkness I fear the most is losing the ability to feel. Losing the ability to love, or hurt, or empathize, or grieve, or fear. I fear the darkness will consume my fragile, naked heart, and my humanity will be frozen solid.
What gives me a great deal of hope amidst these kinds of thoughts is how time really has allowed me to rebuild. I don’t really know what “healing,” is, but maybe this is it. Maybe it’s less about becoming amazing and great and happy like everything once was (was it ever?), and more about incorporating all of the ugly and good and painful parts of my experiences into my life. Allowing grief and loss to teach me, rather than shape me. Allowing vulnerability to pour from my chest, arms open wide, so that others may feel safe to be vulnerable and loved when their world crashes down. Allowing fear to exist. To feel my fear, to acknowledge it, and to keep taking steps forward anyway. To admit, well, this might be kind of a disaster. but i’m going to press on in faith.
The irony is, as sad as a lot of things I’ve experienced have been, I truly feel flowers of happiness blooming in me like I haven’t felt in a very long time. I feel hope. I feel a lightness. There was a time when I didn’t know if I would ever feel light again. Funny, isn’t it? This paradox of fear and light; pain and joy; loneliness and overwhelming connection. I feel all of these here, wrapped up in me like orbs of light that glow and dim, glow and dim, glow and dim. Like the rhythm of a heartbeat, one breath at a time.
I am writing even now as I remember my dad. Man. I wish I could tell him about my students. I wish I could tell him about the adventures I hope for. I wish I could share the great finds at Costco I’ve seen over the past few weeks. I wish I could ask him how I’m supposed to carry on - how I’m ever supposed to feel okay again without him. What would he be like, now? Would he be retired, or still working? Would he have new hobbies? Would he have finished all 50-states marathons? Would he be able to look back and see things more clearly that we couldn’t, so close up?
I wish he could meet my new family. I wish he could see how well we are loved. I wish he knew I had a mom now - one who gives everything of herself for all of us, all of the time. Who showers us with affection and intention. I wish he could see the 9+ of us, laughing and breaking bread together. Maybe he can. I don’t know.
That’s the hard part of loss. There’s not just a single loss, or a sequence of loss with a start and and end. There is all that was lost - memories of the feel of his cheeks after he hadn’t shaved for a few days, or the skin on his hands as I held them as a little girl. What it sounded like to call him and talk to him every day. There’s not just the actual loss of his life, the day itself - that’s merely a blip on all that comes with that.
And the future loss. Oh, how I wish I could share everyone in my life with him, and him with everyone in my life. I wish I could share with him what I’ve learned and how I’ve tried to rebuild my life after losing him, my best friend. I wish I could share a wedding, or kids, or nieces or nephews, or my first home, or my first-time travel experiences with him. All that was; all that is to come.
I don’t mean to sound so sad. But it’s important. It’s important for me to sort through the thoughts in my head, and to speak candidly so those who have also lost will not feel alone in their sorrows. It’s okay for me to feel these things, and be sad, and to also be okay. (Maybe that’s healing?)
This April has been the easiest one yet. 6 years since. Such a long period of time, and yet so little. But I feel like I can kind of breathe again; like I will able to carry this sorrow with grace and solemnity, while also enjoying the sun on my face and the sound of birds as the sun rises. That I can both cry in remembrance of such an amazing dad, and laugh with my friends, family, and students. The paradox exists in all things, I suppose.
So maybe there’s something to be said for the weight of the darkness that teaches us to see all the more clearly the light, simple, carefree beauties all around us. That feeling the heaviness of such a winter makes every ounce of summertime taste sweeter. That such deep loss is only indicative of such a deep love.
And how many of those do we get in a lifetime?
Brian Keith Pugh
August 27, 1959 - April 18, 2013