A Grief Observed

Soundlessly the door opened as a father and his two young sons emerged from a small side room, and into the vacuous lobby of the Animal Emergency and Trauma Center. The boys’ red blotchy cheeks, downcast eyes, and slumped shoulders telegraphed the sad story that had unfolded on the other side of that door. Their father led them over to one of the hard wooden benches that lined the walls of the waiting area where I too was sitting, and waiting. Two days earlier, my dog, Chuckles, had been admitted for a life-threatening liver infection and I was hoping to bring him home after meeting with the doctor.cristina-lavaggi-21229

The room was quiet at 7:00 o’clock in the evening, except for the television that ran incessantly like a kind of “white noise” in the background. I imagined it as a ridiculous soundtrack to all the traumas and dramas that flowed in and out of that space, like the one I was witnessing now, like my own, too. I couldn’t help but watch and listen as this father offered comfort to his sons, each in their own turn. Gently, he cradled the first boy’s face with his hands, and spoke words so softly that I could not catch them, but the sentiment could not have been more clear. With tenderness he kissed the boy on his forehead. Then to his other son he did the same.christopher-harris-57366

I sensed that he wanted to capture the significance of the moment for them, and to honor its solemnity. He did everything with such intention, as though to say, “yes, this is what grief feels like. This is how badly it hurts to lose someone you love. I cannot shield you from the pain but I can reassure you of my love. Today we are bonded by our grief, but also by our love for each other.”

roman-kraft-421410As witness to such compassion, I felt the tears welling up in my own eyes. It didn’t take much, with my own recent fear of loss so fresh and close to the surface. How tender our own grief makes us! How universal the bond! Sitting there in that waiting room, in that time, I felt a part of their story and they of mine. Just then, an attendant came around the corner and called out “Chuckles!” I jumped up to see what awaited me behind another closed-door.

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The Potholes of Your Mind

While on vacation in New York City last fall I learned how to tie my shoe. No, really. My friend Joy and I were tromping around the city and after my shoe came untied for the tenth time Joy suggested that I tie the loops together “Romper Room style” making a very secure knot. Much to my amazement it worked great and I felt a gap in my education closing.IMG_2557

My remedial instruction in shoe tying got me thinking about all the other gaps lurking in my education. In the category of formal learning, they are extensive. There are all those facts learned and forgotten as well as those never taught me. You know the ones; the 10 major U.S. wars and their dates, all the wives of Henry VIII, Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion, and how the electoral college works, etc.

Cognizant of my deficiencies, I bought a most informative and entertaining book a few years ago, An Incomplete Education by Judy Jones and William Wilson. More fun than any text book I ever had in school, the authors wittily fill in a student’s “serious educational gaps” in scholastic learning. From World Religions to Economics to Art Appreciation they cover what you should have learned in school but didn’t. Because knowledge is enriching, and because, as the authors say, “ bumping along over the potholes of your mind day after day can’t be doing much for your self-esteem.”chalk board

But what about the more critical gaps in our emotional and relational education? What about those potholes that we bump along over in life? Like learning to tie our shoes and learning to read and write, we have to learn how to become mature healthy adults. How to respect others who are different from ourselves, how to effectively handle confrontation, how to listen and compromise, all these must be taught. Likewise, we must learn to love and respect ourselves. To become our true selves, to speak our mind, and to be committed and resilient. We are not born knowing how to do these things.

I daresay most of us have learned how to be an adult the hard way. If you are like me, you have fallen into many potholes along the road of life and have learned by climbing back out of them. Some potholes I have failed to steer clear of repeatedly and I have had to learn the same lesson multiple times. I have annoyingly tied and retied the same shoe before learning how to make a secure knot.IMG_2548

Even if you were one of the lucky ones who had parents who served as healthy role models, you still have probably done most of your learning by the trial and error method. And while there are self-help books aplenty, on everything from confrontation to mindfulness, they seem to help best after we’ve already gotten a few battle scars on us.

As a student of life, and becoming my most authentic self, I am a life-long learner. That is a class that never lets out. I have witnessed that the surest sign of old age is the inability to change your mind and so to become rigid and inflexible. In future posts I will talk about how I learned some of my hardest lessons and how I came back out on the other side.

Dear Reader, what are some of the potholes you have navigated in and out of in your life?