It is easy to write about rainbows and butterflies. About the abundance of life blooming all around us. It is much harder to write about tragic loss. To sit with our pain and to actually acknowledge it. In the past I’ve often tried to push myself through it, to prove how strong and resilient I was. But this time I wanted to give myself as much space and time as I needed. So instead of running back to my old life, I read It’s ok that you’re not ok by Meghan Devine. It’s one of the most enlightening books on grief I’ve ever read. It felt like a voice in the dark telling me: what you are feeling is completely normal. It helped me to understand that it’s not crazy to feel all over the place, have mysterious pains and aches in your body, or feel anxious about EVERYTHING. That you’re allowed to collapse – after all, your world has collapsed. And that this isn’t something we’re supposed to fix. As Adrienne Rich wrote, “There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors.”
Last year I had really made up my mind… no more retreats. And then something unexpected happened. I was asked to fill in as a last-minute substitute. No, was of course my answer. Not a chance! Of course, I promised I would sleep on it. As I lay in bed, I thought of Kant, as you do. Kant said: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” So the following morning I said yes – and asked my love to teach it with me. But then the panic started. Am I good enough? What if it’s a total disaster? There was only one solution. I would have to watch Kung Fu Panda. Again. As Shifu was spluttering (“The panda? Master, that panda is not the Dragon Warrior. He wasn’t even meant to be here… it was an accident!”) I was reminded by the old and wise Oogway that there are no accidents. And also, that there is no secret ingredient. You just need to believe!
Each new relationship challenges you in ways you weren’t expecting. For me living together with the one I love means being confronted with my vulnerability, all of my imperfections and idiosyncrasies. Basically all of the things I try to hide most of the time. And then there’s the stuff from my past. Coping mechanisms that used to work are failing and unresolved issues are flaring up like wildfires. As Katherine Anne Porter once wrote, the past is never where you think you left it. Old files that I had neatly tucked away in brown paper boxes and labelled as closed are suddenly resurfacing all over the place. My first reaction was to panic and to try to shove them back into the closet and sweep the rest under the carpet, hoping they would not notice. But there’s no way that you can keep that up. Trying to pretend everything is OK is really draining. So I’ve learned that the best way to deal with it is to accept yourself and your past. To own up to it and be honest about it. To bring it into the light.
I have a confession to make: I have never actually been up in a tree. I am more of a ground squirrel, you see. It is about time that this changed, so I asked a friend – who is excellent with this sort of thing – to help me. “How about tomorrow?” he said. “Well, that seems a bit soon,” I replied, as I tried to think of a valid excuse. “Tomorrow it is then!” So the very next day I found myself at the foot of a beautiful beech tree, feeling weak at the knees. “Did I mention I have a fear of heights?” I stuttered. But I was here now and might as well give it a go. The first two meters or so were difficult, but once I got the hang of it I discovered that I LOVE climbing trees. I learned that sometimes fear is just an illusion that we create ourselves and then get tangled in. When we let go of the illusion, our fears disappear like snow melting in the sun. The experience also taught me that I should really embrace Pippy Longstocking’s motto: I have never tried it before, so I think I should definitely be able to do it.
Feeling the warmth of the sunlight on my skin as we walked hand in hand along the river, leaning into each other to whisper the words that are blossoming in our hearts, I noticed my fears subsiding. It was then that I realised that the Hydra that I have been fighting isn’t some big, bad monster attacking me, but that it is merely my own anxiety. Could it be that it was there for a reason? I decided to drop my sword the next time it would show up and invite it in for a cup of tea. “Please sit down,” I said, “now, tell me, why are you here? Where have you come from and what is it that you wish to tell me?” We talked about the experiences we have lived through together and I listened to all of her worries for some distant future, and after a while, I began to understand. I took her in my arms and held her tight. After I let her go, I gently told her that we are going on this grand adventure and I would like very much for her to join me and remind me that I am not to be naive, but strong and confident.