Does this surprise me? Not rationally. I knew it, know it, have seen it in my own and other people’s lives. But if I ever doubted what I know, this week has given me complete and utter clarity about it.
I’m on a trip away from home, doing things in the real world, in my real life. I hadn’t set off to take a trip down memory lane, or through the land of grief. But to my surprise, that’s where I seem to be, at least in part. The grief is completely interspersed with vibrant blips of current reality. In terms of time spent, vibrant reality overshadows the grief 10 to 1. But the intensity of the grief has given the whole week a strong flavor. Perhaps because of the strength of current life’s vibrancy, the irrationality of my grief sometimes takes me all the way to Wild Grief.
This was a two-part trip: It began with a meeting in Cleveland of a group of Unitarian Universalists, called “Allies for Racial Equity.” A group engaged in compelling, active work on a very present issue that I’m engaged in now. It had barely occurred to me that, 30 miles away in Akron, my childhood home was now owned by people who were not my parents. But when I got to Cleveland, I needed to head down to Akron and circle that house like a buzzard. So I did, driving along familiar streets, noting things I remembered and things that have changed. In a declining industrial city, most things that have changed are not for the better.
At my childhood home, my rational brain noted that the new people appear to be taking care of some major house issues that my father refused to address, and that is a very positive thing.
Meanwhile, my grief spoke in a completely different voice. Wild Grief began to howl: How dare they? Why did they take down those bushes [hideous bushes I had always hated]? How could they paint the door that new color when my mother had so carefully picked out that purple color [I never liked], and hand painted the door herself, twenty or twenty five years ago? What was wrong with them?
I shook myself a little, drove around familiar streets of schools and friends, streets filled with the ghosts of friends , some living and some dead. Then I headed back to Cleveland, back to my life, back to my trip. Next stop: Boston.
The Unitarian Universalist Association is preparing to sell its buildings on Beacon Hill and move across town. These include office buildings and also a bed and breakfast that I have stayed in, literally hundreds of times, over the past twenty five years. I knew that I was grieving the loss of this home away from home, but it wasn’t until I began to see the ubiquitous presence of the people who are purchasing it, measuring and discussing future plans, that irrational grief began to burn in me. “They’re walking around as if they own the place!” I sputtered to a co-worker, who responded kindly, “They do.”
And from there Wild Grief took full flight. As I was walking to a nearby café, I realized that not only am I losing this place to stay, it’s also unlikely that I will, in the future, spend much if any time on Beacon Hill in Boston. Why didn’t I ever live on Beacon Hill, when my child was young? I asked myself. Look at those people with a stroller! Now my child is 17 and I’ll never push a stroller on Beacon Hill! How could I have denied myself that opportunity? It would have been the best place to live, and I denied myself the experience, which is now gone For.Ev.Er.
Rational self pointed out to Wild Grief that, actually, I didn’t like the five years I spent working in Boston. The climate, the culture, the population density was so alien to me that I pretended to myself I was just there for college and would graduate soon and leave. Rational Self also pointed out that my stays at the bed and breakfast include such memories as my young child getting hives because of the lack of screens in the windows and a mosquito infestation, with air conditioning and heating that never quite worked right. Rational self had all kinds of these reminders, but Wild Grief had no interest. She was off and running.
Walking in one of the Boston streets that my Midwestern heart found so claustrophobic and anxiety producing when I lived here, Wild Grief continued to spiral and escalate. What is this time I live in, anyway? Wild Grief moaned. Wouldn’t it have been better to have lived in the 1950’s, when businesses were building after the war and people got married, had jobs, bought houses, and just stayed put for life? Wouldn’t it have been great to live in a time when things were predictable, and steady?
And that’s when Rational Self dissolved and Cackling Self came in. The 1950’s? Me in the 1950’s? I told a friend about this later and we had a laughing fit, envisioning me, a bitter secretary for a mean and controlling male boss, unable to create or claim or own anything as a woman, slinking into smoky lesbian bars on the weekends hoping not to get arrested, a bitter alcoholic, viewed by the rest of the world as a lonely spinster. And with that cackling, wild grief quit soaring in the skies and spiraled down a tiny hole. From which I am confident she will emerge again any minute and take flight again.
I don’t know what adventures my heart will bring me today, but I hope Cackling Self stays with me. Turns out not only is she more fun, she’s more effective, in vanquishing Wild Grief.