It took me a while to name my feelings this week, and it finally landed on me: grief.
Yes. A deep feeling of sorrow for what was lost and for what could have been for our country, for women. My grief, however, doesn’t exist in a vacuum and I can also empathize with the deep hurt of others. People of color, with disabilities, of non-Christian faiths like Islam, from the LGBTQ community, refugees, and women – folks who are truly fearful for what happens next. I am hurting. We are hurting.
These feelings have saturated every fiber of me, like a wet sponge that desperately needs wringing. I know that I need space to sort out my own pain, so I can make a plan and move forward. But I can’t seem to reconcile that need with honoring and recognizing the feelings of so many other people who are numb, lost, angry, or afraid.
There is a Jewish tradition called Shiva, or sitting for shiva, which is a seven-day mourning period for the loss of an immediate family member. While I am not of this faith, I deeply admire the practice as it creates space for reflection, routine, community, and healing – something I think many of us need right now.
So, I’m inviting you to sit with me for a while.
Let’s take time. Many of us do not have the luxury to occupy healing spaces of reflection. Life goes on, as they say, and so do we. We press on – and just as our wounds begin to scab over, people from marginalized groups are quickly reminded that we are not welcomed or valued in this world. And so we bleed again. Every day, every time we are denied the same rights of our straight-white-cisgender-male counterparts. Every time we passed over for opportunities, judged by our skin or our bodies, ignored, or fucking interrupted. It all piles on.
Shiva allows mourners to heal by eliminating distractions in order to move through their stages of grief. Past denial, over anger, around bargaining, and through depression – it provides space to connect with others and to lighten loads. We may not be able to carve out seven days, but perhaps seven minutes here and seven minutes there – to sit alone, or with others who are suffering from scraped knees and broken hearts.
Invite discomfort. In this tradition, mourners literally sit on stools, or near the floor. It symbolizes the person being “brought low” following their loss. This can bring awareness to feelings so they can be named and healed. In the days to come, there will be plenty of dissonance in our communities. By design, our nation is a melting pot of people from different backgrounds and ideologies – and some may not align with our values, our identities, and our hopes for the future. I truly believe that we are better together, especially when we seek to understand one another. Let’s sit with our differences for a bit, and be better listeners and advocates. We need each other.
Find strength through community. Choosing to stay alone through grief can sometimes prolong it. People need people – especially during times when we are unable to fully care for ourselves, or to see hope when things seem hopeless. I can sometimes be a loner; I don’t like being vulnerable, so I close myself off to others. During Shiva, I like the idea that visitors stay silent until the mourner breaks it. In Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak, he beautifully captures a period of his life when he was clinically depressed. A friend came over to his home, not to talk, but to simply massage the soles of his feet:
“What he mainly did for me, of course, was to be willing to be present to me in my suffering. He just hung in with me in this very quiet, very simple, very tactile way. And I’ve never really been able to find the words to fully express my gratitude for that, but I know it made a huge difference. And it became for me a metaphor of the kind of community we need to extend to people who are suffering in this way, which is a community that is neither invasive of the mystery nor evasive of the suffering but is willing to hold people in a space, a sacred space of relationship, where somehow this person who is on the dark side of the moon can get a little confidence that they can come around to the other side.” – Parker Palmer
Something I am learning is that it’s ok to lean on others. To honor voices and amplify them – but to also honor silence from marginalized communities that have experienced (yet another) blow. To forgive others. To give each other space and grace and love.
Limit your silence. As my late grandmother used to say, “One must use their strengths to make the world better.” After spending time reflecting on our grief, there will come a time to brush ourselves off and get back to our daily grinds. To be entirely honest, this time I catapulted myself back into the world entirely too soon. I spoke before I really took the time to listen to my own feelings and to consider my privilege in certain spaces.
Words matter – they won’t always be the right ones – trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way. But it’s on us to make sure that we are adding more good to the world and not adding more hurt.
So, please, take a beat to consider your wounds, perhaps your privilege, and then get ready to come back into the world swinging.
The good fight can take on many forms; words are my preferred weapon of choice. For my friend Sue, she’s going to “Art the f*ck outta this country.” When you’re ready, show us your scars, show us your gifts, show us your art. There is so much work to be done, but I am still hanging on to hope.
I certainly cannot compare the death of a loved one to feelings of grief and loss following an election, but I like the idea that the ritual of reflection can bring us comfort, and perhaps, help us move forward, together.
Do you have a few minutes? Sit with me for a while.
*Thank you to my dear friend Joe for editing and making sure I captured the essence of Shiva. And to Sue and Becca for challenging me and continuing to make sure I minimize my foolishness on the Internet.