I was talking to a friend of mine today about the rough roads we sometimes travel on our journey from cradle to grave. We shared ideas of simple comforts that can make them easier. My friend mentioned that rituals or places where grief is allowed is a good place to start. A place where you can grieve–as deeply and as loudly or quietly as you need, for as long as you need–with no one to rush you or shame you or make you feel out of step with the rest of the world while you do this very important task, which is part of the burden and privilege of being a human.
“I wish we had a Wailing Wall,” she said.
I shared my opinion that Americans are not good at grieving. Even intelligent and sensitive people can still fall into the belief that after six months or so, you should be “over it.”
I wonder where that idea came from? It’s like a bad ad slogan that got into the collective consciousness and now nobody knows where it came from, but nobody can stop repeating it, either. Is it our manic and warped insistence on being happy and satisfied every gosh-darn moment of our lives? And if you aren’t, what the heck is wrong with you? Because it sure can feel like there’s something wrong with you if you aren’t sparkle-happy all the time. Even when you know better, even when you’ve cycled through the natural tide of feelings a few hundred times, you can still catch yourself thinking What’s wrong with me? Why am I (take your pick): in such a funk? unable to concentrate? overwhelmed? angry? forgetful? irritable? so…blah?
But I think it’s more than a cultural aversion to grief. I think it’s a complete ignorance of how much grief we all feel every single day, day after day. If you stopped to just sit and feel, you might find you carry an enormous amount of grief and never know it. Why?
In addition to all the grief a normal life can present, it’s very easy to get caught up in the merry-go-round (emphasis on merry) of staying busy. Busy is a virtue here. Over-achieving is a disease in every strata above the poverty level, where survival takes precedence over impressing whomever we think might be watching.
And every day we are bombarded with terrible events in the news, events that should make us tear our clothes and pour ashes on our heads, as people did in earlier times. But we don’t. Why?
I am willing to bet that, instead of recognizing that these things and more make us feel profound sadness, we have learned to go right to a) anger or b) helplessness, and eventually train ourselves to skip directly to c) what’s for dinner?
We are a people overwhelmed. But recognizing the symptoms is the first step toward healing. Fortunately, there is one thing you can do to get back in touch with your own feelings.
Light a candle.
There is something inexplicably calming and reassuring about a lit candle. The simple act of lighting one gets us immediately in touch with our Ur-self; it instantly fulfills our primal need for warmth and light.
I was raised in the Catholic church and I can tell you a hundred things I think Catholics get wrong, but they are right about candles. When I was growing up, every Catholic church had a votive candle rack, where you could go day or night to light a candle, kneel and pray, and feel comforted. And I’ve never found a candle rack that didn’t have space for my candle and therefore my petitions. No matter where I have traveled in the world, if I could find a Catholic church, I could light a candle and live to fight another day.
Today, right now, you can light a candle in your home and feel better. If you’re spiritual, you can let it waft your prayers to the heavens; if you’re not, you can gather those thoughts and give them a shape. Or you can light a candle and admit you know nothing…or feel nothing. No matter what, that candle will start to lead you out of darkness.
Tonight I lit a candle for my friend. It’s one of the best things you can do for another. And then I lit one for you, dear reader, for a little relief from whatever burden you carry today. Here you go: