I am a widower. My wife died on December 21, 2014 after a thirteen-week intense battle with Stage IV uterine cancer. She was only 38 years old, and we would have been married nineteen years. This jarring experience rattled me to the core, to the soul – the place where I knew and defined my self, others and the world around me. It caused me to question everything, to place it all under the microscope of scrutiny - my beliefs, my dogmas, my idiosyncrasies and my aspirations. My world was turned upside down and I was left with only pieces of a life that I once knew wondering how it would be put back together. Feelings of insecurity, unmet occupational dreams, old emotional wounds of belonging all surfaced as I sat on the proverbial floor sifting through random-colored blocks of life.
It was in the midst of this journey of reassessment that an unsuspecting acquaintance became a close and personal friend. She and I spoke a similar language; we shared a depth and perspective. As a poet and artist, she encouraged me to seriously explore the creative talents that were fundamentally apart of me, but were buried beneath childhood fears - parts that were inactive because I was frightened to believe that they were good. Through her artful expression, she provided a metaphor for me to envision a creative life given as a gift to others. She gave me a book by Elle Luna entitled The Crossroads of Should and Must – a story that deeply resonated with me, and in it I discovered possibility, a “wholehearted life” -- to borrow a phrase from Brené Brown -- a reimagined existence that integrated the breadth of my past with the emerging good of my future. It took profound loss and the gift of new relationships to serve as an incubator to birth courage and bravery to hear and respond to Luna’s words: How long will you wait to honor who you are?
For years, I stood on the sidelines of photography curiously looking at cameras and jealously envying others who practiced it with ease. I would inquire about the type of camera and lens I should buy, but in the end I would talk myself out of it citing a long list of inadequacies. However, this past December, I walked into a local camera shop and it was different. Unlike other salespeople, this man listened to my daydreams and exaggerations and instead of directing me to a starter camera -- a suggestion that would have felt dismissive -- he pointed me to a model that was suited for my future goals. More money than I had anticipated spending, I told him that I would think about it for a few days. Strangely this departure wasn’t shrouded in anxiety, but excitement. Later that evening and over the next two days, I did my homework – reading reviews and comparing notes. Satisfied with the information, I went back in and purchased the camera. This time, when I left the store, I was not overwhelmed with the paralyzing emotion of insufficiency but rather with the liberating emotion of potential. I had taken the first step into a dream planted in me as an adolescent; I was enacting a “Must” and it was invigorating.
The same has been true with writing. For the first time, I have been exploring poetry and story telling immersing myself in the freedom that is artistic expression, and slowly I am discovering my voice. With each simple act of awkward faithfulness something like light breaks through. With every word typed and every exposure taken, possibility becomes clearer; an ever-expanding dream of a creative outlet that curates my experiences of image and idea in the public square. I want to do for others what has been done for me – encouragement to rise-up from varied losses to reimagine life where everything belongs and where our actions and attitudes are marked by courage, bravery, compassion and creativity.
This journey is not an easy one. There are times when I am still overwhelmed by fear and immobilized at the thought of failure; however, I am constantly reminded that we never walk our paths in isolation. Though our experience may oscillate between community and aloneness, it is precisely this experience that opens us up to something new. It is in community that we are encouraged by the reassuring words of the other, an affirming touch or a gentle challenge that pushes against our apprehensions. It is in our aloneness that mental clutter is removed and emotional static is silenced. It is in our aloneness that we are granted the terrifying gift of seeing ourselves fully, and the opportunity and invitation to respond to that gift of being and becoming who we were created to be.
Once a month I attend a small group in the evening that meets together to discuss reflections and ideas related to an NPR podcast series hosted by Krista Tippett called On Being. Last week’s gathering focused on an interview with David Whyte entitled The Conversational Nature of Reality. As poet and philosopher, Whyte spoke about humanity’s reluctance to live in the tension of loss and gratitude ignoring the discipline of attentiveness and presence, and in doing so missing the opportunity for maturity and wholeness. Instead of running away from the conversation between these opposites, Whyte suggests we enter fully into that moment and discover what it has to teach us - the gift of vulnerability. Reciting his poem entitled Sweet Darkness he captures what few are able to articulate. He states
“When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
It’s time to go into the night
where the dark has eyes
to recognize its own.
It’s time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will make a home for you tonight.
will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing. You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.”
How long will you wait to honor who you are? This question reverberates through the silent spaces in each of us. Instead of running away, let us learn attentiveness and enter fully into the conversation between loss and gratitude. Let us discover that we are always undergirded by hope – and hope is possibility.