As 2012 came to a close, I longed to hear some good news. So many of my friends were being buffeted by calamity and heartbreak, it seemed the year was careening bleakly to its end.
From loved ones lost to surprising divorce announcements and separations to more seismic ruptures that set entire lives adrift, it was difficult to sit amid so much struggle, especially when grief had cast its shadow upon my own days following my father’s death in October. And yet as we’ve all waded into this new year, robed in sorrows and reimagining the road ahead, while clutching familiar fragments of a disappearing past, I’m seeing the good at last.
It’s happened over coffee and long walks, at the corner table in the late-night quiet of a favorite restaurant and in cozy living rooms with the sprawl of take-out boxes or simple homemade meals. Even email exchanges and phone calls across the distance haven’t been immune.
Our suffering has stripped the superficial from our lives. Seared by pain, by change, by a swift and restless uncertainty, we no longer have time for feigned normalcy, for the half-truths that can keep us locked in our loneliness, for a brittle perfection meant to shield us from the seeming callousness of a world that carries on.
As I’ve spent time catching up with these friends since the year began, whether our stories wind in similar patterns or diverge in chapters unimaginable to each other, the transparency we’ve brought to our interactions has been affirming and even invigorating. It’s not that my friendships are flimsily built to begin with — in most cases, their depth and richness are what sustains them — but I can’t help noticing how our willingness to be more authentic in our individual lives is translating into a deeper layer of authenticity and trust in our connections.
Not too long ago, as I gathered with girlfriends from college — for a rare girls night in versus our usual tendency to try out the latest trendy restaurant — I was amazed at how five hours flew by, while our conversation delved deeper than it had in years.
Rallying to support one whose life was in the throes of blistering transition, we opened windows, unlatched doors, tumbled every fear and secret longing into the space of a renewed and sacred camaraderie. Marriage, babies, failings, regret — suddenly, there was no topic we wouldn’t dare to raise. And with each layer peeled back, we gave each other a kind of freedom, a permission, to be exactly where we were, in all our beautiful, roiling imperfection.
Even the tears that fell were welcome, a truth as vital as the laughter that billowed over cupcakes and wine and the recognition of how good it felt to embrace each other beyond the nostalgic recycling of our shared past. What had begun as one woman risking a stark candor transformed the entire night into a haven for all of us.
The experience would repeat itself over the next few weeks. Whether it was me sharing my own journey through grieving my father or a friend revealing her own dark night, I’ve walked away from those exchanges grateful for our daring to so honestly engage our hearts.
Shortly after my dad’s funeral in St. Lucia, I remember writing to a cherished friend who’d lost her dad in August, and whose mom would pass only a few weeks after my return, that I dreaded putting on the mask of re-entry.
In my surreal haze, with my composure so easily collapsible, I couldn’t imagine inhabiting a day-to-day that spun, unchanged, on its axis.
She responded that one of the gifts her own grieving had blessed her with was an inability to be anything other than what she was: tender and teary, open and broken, trusting that whatever she was feeling in any moment was OK. It didn’t mean she splayed her story of loss wherever she went.
But somehow, acknowledging she didn’t have to show up as she usually did, with a smile on her face and an energy befitting each activity or encounter, allowed her to do the things that needed her attention while still being present to the fullness of her experience.
“It’s really all any of us want anyway, I think: the truth, the real stuff,” she said.
Her words have stayed with me, for what else is there? We all hunger for connection, for meaning, for the hands that hold our joy to cradle, too, our pain.
This, I think, is how we heal. We share our stories. We see the piece that’s ours in the tales that others tell. And then one day, the wounds scabbed over, the ache dissipated or gentled into loving memory, we leave behind that passage and speak of something new.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times