to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you down like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
-The Thing Is by Ellen Bass from
My research and writing project right now is on medical trauma and grief, a project that up until a few weeks ago seemed strange and niche to most people I talked to about it. But as we experience a global pandemic the likes of which many people have never seen in their lifetime, I feel the sense that we are all experiencing different levels of grief and trauma from being uprooted so suddenly from our lives, to lose financial stability long fought for and precariously maintained, to be socially isolated from friends and family out of a deep love for their well-being. Not to mention the friends and family who have loved ones ill from the virus and those who are sick and isolated at home or in the hospital.
In my research I came across the grief specialist Julia Sammuels, who talks about how the death of a child forces you across a line of knowing that you can never uncross. It fundamentally changes how you relate to your living children, how you parent and how you relate to other parents. It is this idea that connects me to Bass’s poem–grief is a heavy, thick thing that fundamentally changes the one who grieves.
But grief is also an invitation. As Bass’s poem reminds me it is an invitation to love well, knowing first hand what is at stake. So this week I will grieve. I will grieve what I have personally lost and what we have collectively lost so that I can be ready to love whatever new world we shape after.
To Find a Steady Center is a daily poem and meditation to offer a short, good word to those who are anxious, fearful or lonely and who might need a gentle word of hope, encouragement or perspective during social distancing.