April 28, 2020
I can still remember the interview I had before being offered my current position as Chaplain at Four Seasons. I drove two hours from Knoxville to Asheville for an afternoon interview. For two, long, excruciating hours I anticipated the questions the interview team would have for me. I practiced answering fake questions. I smiled. I laughed. I nearly made myself sick worrying about being on time to a part of town I’d never visited. I have 1001 visions of how the next hour or two would play out and by the time I got to the Buncombe check point to meet the interview team, I had already been hired 5 times and told “we’ll get back to you” at least 100 times.
In the vivid chaos of my imagination I tried to envision a future with Four Seasons, moving to Asheville, and creating a new life with my soon-to-be fiancé. Then I was asked the one question in every interview I never quite anticipate and never really answer well “Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?” Can you imagine the ulcers I’d have if I actually took the time to think that one through?!?!
I have a hard time, for many and various reasons, allowing myself to indulge in dreaming of a ‘good’ future. Usually, my imaginings about the future are bleak or “worst case scenario” indulgences into what might be. I think this is a coping mechanism I developed early on in my life to lessen the impact of disappointments. If I imagine the world at its worst and I get its mediocre, then I’m already better off than I thought I’d be by now.
Over the last several weeks I’ve struggled to imagine what the world might look like in 6 months to a year. Good or bad, I just can’t seem to imagine the future right now. Sure I have things on the calendar I’m looking forward to doing. But I’m having trouble with the feeling of it all. I don’t feel connected to them beyond the space they mark on my calendar.
This too is a coping mechanism. It’s a symptom of my grief. It’s a consequence of the collective traumas we’ve encountered. Survival over the last few weeks has demanded that we be hypervigilant in every activity to maintain personal and community safety. How can I expend my precious energy on dreaming about the future when every reserve is being redirected to making it through today? How can I be so irresponsible as to live in tomorrow land when today is burning to the ground?
One of the most difficult tasks of navigating through our grief is investing in a new reality. By now, most of us are waking up to the possibility that we will not be returning to our old “normal”. Navigating this task successfully is hard. I don’t want to imagine a world where I have to live like this forever, let alone another two weeks.
The temptation we are all going to face is becoming so hard and closed off to a “new normal” that we never imagine or dream of how we will live once the searing pain of our loss begins to ebb. And it will ebb. With time and intention our pain will lessen. We will notice our grief less and less. When that happens, however, we must have a dream, a future us, a future life, to grab onto. Once our hands are emptied of the last pieces of a broken dream, what shall we then grab to take its place?
We all need something to look forward to. We need hope for a future healed. We need hope for future peace. We need a dream of a life restored. If we do not dare to dream of the future, we will be shocked and stunned by its arrival, hard and resistant.
So, here we are, ready or not, negotiating this task of grief. Can we see a future worth investing in today? Can we dream of world that is beautiful and soft and full of sweet things? Or will we stagnate here in the bitterness of our pain?
We all have this choice to make. Can we overcome our nature and dare an audacious hope? Do you have the courage build a future from the rubble and the ash? Do we dare to dream of a new future for a new life?
I leave you with many questions today. I’m trying to not let the world harden me. I’m trying to practice hope. I’m trying…and I’m failing…and I’m trying again…I’ll get there. So will you!
I leave you with these words from Kurt Vonnegut: Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place”
The world around us is scary and the temptation to recoil against it is strong. So be soft. Be kinds. Be gentle. Water the tender roots. Tend the tender shoots. Remember, seeds must be planted before they can grow. Every future harvest begins with the farmer dreaming of the day she’ll bring in the sheaves.
Love and Light!