“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” – Ernest Hemingway
It starts here. Every time it starts here: from an end.
Something closed, stopped, went away. Something died. It doesn’t matter what it is; it hurts.
For me, so many things died at once this year, most significantly you, when before this year, at 30 years old, not much in my life had died at all. A few family dogs, an acquaintance from high school, grandparents I didn’t know. But no one deep in my heart. You of all people know more than anyone how sheltered I was—you, the roof. As a grief virgin, it felt unfair; as if all the souls and all the galaxies were in cahoots behind my back that now was the time to collectively wither, go away, abandon—all so I could learn some great mystical lesson. All so I could be reborn. Sure, I get it. Spirit works that way: Rock-bottom is the best teacher; you can’t rise until you fall; obstacle is an invitation to bloom. But let’s not fool ourselves: before that lesson is learned and the growth grown, the withering hurts.
I fucking hurt.
But I can’t really say that out loud, can I? I haven’t. When people ask me, nonchalantly, months after you died and all that bullshit afterward transpired, what I’ve been up to, it’s all I want to say: I’ve been hurting.
But I don’t say that. It’s not nonchalant. It’s not strong and one twist I’ve learned through all this is that in the midst of your own tragedies, you’re expected to be strong for everyone else. So I say I’ve been really great, or pretty good, or, at my very most pitiful, hanging in there.
All of these things are lies; but they are the things that are acceptable to say. So I say them until they come true. Don’t we all? Everything is good, everything is great—look, I’ve even got an Instagram pic to prove it. Hashtag blessed.
Swarms of fakes we’ve become.
But what are our options, here? Here, in America 2015, you cannot say, I’ve been hurting. You can never say that, else be deemed a wimp. A weakling. A pussy. And this sort of stoicism–pretending everything is okay always, and bottling it all up in our brains and hearts and guts, and taking pride in our repressions–is not just a “male thing” though often generalized as such. As long as we value only male things and systematically murder only female things–it’s an everyone thing. A social pandemic.
Somewhere along the lines we’ve bought into the cancerous lie that hardness is strength when really it’s cancer.
Most people have seen the beauty life offers, but it tends to be juxtaposed—and often diminished—by the horrific. Harsh stuff has become the norm we try and numb. But the fact is that the harsher the world around us becomes and the harder we become numb, the harsher we get. The harder. And the more we harden, the more we shut ourselves off from everything meaningful and true.
Being hard is not strong; being hard is spiritual dilution because nothing about Spirit is hard.
Nothing about Love is hard.
You knew that. You knew all about softening. You knew about softening because you knew most of all, more than anyone I know, about hard.
You knew about how time could callus a heart; how space could weaken a spirit. But you knew, also, that this is how you soften: redirect the hurt energy into something good; create rather than destroy; transform the pain, the tragic, the broken, into something sweet and beautiful and kind. “Do something good,” you told me before you died. “Something” could mean art, it could mean service, it could mean extreme self-care. It doesn’t matter what, you said, it’s the act of alchemy that’s important—transmuting something unquestionably ugly into something fucking magnificent.
Modern alchemists—those who put creativity and spirituality and kindness at the nucleus of their lives—don’t just stare at the broken pieces of their heart in defeat and wallow and numb until time steals their memories; they take the shards in their hands, make wind chimes from all the different pieces and, bleeding but alive, summon the wind.
I am trying to become that alchemist. For you I am trying. It’s what you would have wanted and that is the big, beating-red-alive thing I have left to live for: your honor.
So, I’ll start here: at the end.
At the end where things hurt.
At the end where it’s dark but morning is a promise.
At the end where writing is the lifeboat and the lighthouse and the shore.
At the end where I’m invited to crawl out of the stormy see, take root, and bloom.
At the end.