Grief’s Invitation to Meet Our Innocence
Ever since the election I’ve felt disembodied. It’s like my brain and my body are not in radio contact. Last week when I couldn’t find my keys, I finally found them on top of the yogurt in the refrigerator. After a contentious work meeting, I left a journal filled with confidential musings behind with no guarantee of who might read it before I could retrieve it. I’ve tripped on curbs so often my ankles might as well be silly putty.
And yesterday, as I was pumping gas into my car, I pulled the hose out mid-stream spraying me all over head to toe. I slipped in the resultant oil slick and it pulled my right boot’s sole partially off. Clonking around half-soled 15 minutes later, I showed up at a doctor’s appointment and had to apologize for my off-gassing which had, in a matter of seconds, overwhelmed the small office.
Where am I?? My body asks with heightened urgency. My brain’s doing its best to explain. It’s ok, you’re still in Seattle, cushioned (somewhat) from the palpable xenophobia seeping across most of the rest of the country. Yes, Donald Drumpf is our next President but we have enough checks and balances to maintain the freedoms embedded in our democracy. And yes, the Cascade Mountains are still stunning in the orange-pink alpenglow of a late fall afternoon. When all else fails, my brain reminds me, look to the timeless and be assured.
But my body is not sure of anything and the awkward fumbles and miscues speak to this uncertainty.
Just in the last few days, I discovered a trail of breadcrumbs to the feelings that override all rational thought marching through my logical brain. And the found feelings map directly to my grief.
When I say this, when I mention grief, people think I mean the grief associated with a Drumpf presidency. But that’s not it. Drumpf’s election simply located the well-cap covering the well-spring of nameless, gargantuan, unbounded grief associated with eons of missed opportunity, mine and the collective’s. The opportunity we’ve always had to connect to each other’s unique yet universal humanity but have not known quite how.
So just as Drumpf’s election located this well-cap of grief inside me, subsequent events have been trying to unscrew it from its rusty, hardened hinges.
Events like going to the Egyptian Theatre and watching Moonlight, a movie by writer and director Barry Jenkins about an African American boy in Miami having to grow up too fast. A movie about bearing witness to the tender, sensitive side of ‘the masculine’ meeting itself in the body of boy becoming a man attracted to other men. It’s achingly beautiful and deeply human. Through such beauty, the film commands you to sit with our human vulnerability and wonder about the opportunities we’ve missed to connect from that place.
Leaving the theatre, I notice the well-cap has been pried further lose. Wending my way through crowded sidewalks, I can almost smell the warm-blooded humanity of every person I pass, crossing Broadway, standing in front of Rancho Bravo, turning the corner towards home.
When an older man approaches asking for spare change, I stop before he can expel a word. As I go searching for my wallet, he dives into his knapsack to offer me one of several hats he had for a trade. I don’t think I would recognize him if we passed again on the street. But my memory of his kindness, inspiring my own, is firmly intact.
Our conversation is open and honest. He explains he’s found a safe place to sleep lately, away from the drugs and drinking. He shows me a new sleeping bag that is making his nights a lot cozier. He asks me where I grew up and how I like Seattle. I ask him about his family back in Arkansas and if he missed them. It is a lifetime of sharing in less than 5 minutes. Overwhelmed and undone, I feel the grief pushing me to my knees in gratitude for an opportunity to share this much connection with a stranger. Yet I hold onto my ocean of emotion, afraid of what kind of public spectacle open weeping would create. And then he is gone.
Who was this man? Hadn’t I known him all my life? He is family. He is friend. It felt like we’d been children together. That we had known each other before, at a time of our own innocence, before the weight of trauma and losses of the heart had piled up. Before the many years of external pressures and societal conditioning molded us into the separate, protected individuals we’d become.
In the days that follow, like a rewired computer, I watch the adults around me morph into the children they’d once been. Something had happened to the frame through which I saw others. It was more than new vision. It was some kind of madly hatched superpower.
Of course, it was easier when I watched people from afar, people passing in silence in front of my car as I stopped at a red light. But even the adults sitting across from me in meetings had transformed. Just beneath the surface of their serious words, complex sentences and well-practiced personas I could see the younger, softer versions of themselves. All of them as 4 year-olds, carefree spirits, looking out at the world in wonder, emanating lightness of being.
As long as I kept my attention on the armor and conditioned responses of the adults in front of me, I remained locked in the same but of my own making. From this place of attention, I wrestle with power, I struggle to negotiate perception, I remain mostly alone.
But the moment I imagined them as the children they once were, I experienced their tenderness, a tenderness that lies just beneath the surface like the pulse of blood you feel when you press your fingertips to a wrist.
My new attention, becoming new vision, was helping me see around their projections, underneath their protections, beyond their objections. It was guiding me to feel into their beginnings, alongside their insecurities, and closer to their fragility. It was, simply put, a pivot. Yet a radical pivot that lifted my foot off the breaks of the resistance that maintained a wall of separation between me and others. Between me and connection. Between me and innocence. Theirs, and more importantly, my own.
My innocence. It may be the last part of me I’ve wanted to acknowledge. I’ve already acknowledged so many of my shadows, those neglected parts of me I deny that wreak havoc in my relationships. But I’ve sought them out and, for the most part, found a way to understand what they need.
Not so my innocence. My innocence and I have mostly lived apart. In a world of competition and scarcity, I couldn’t afford to know my innocence. It would not–it did not–help me to survive. Because unlike so much of the adult world, innocence has no guile, no pretension. It’s sincere. It wonders aloud. It knows very little. It feels alongside and with the world, not apart from it. It’s unapologetic about its needs. And to survive it must trust what it sees and experiences as it is, not as we project it to be.
It’s my innocence I met on the street corner that night in the form of an older man from Arkansas asking for some spare change. I meet it in children. I meet it every day in the sweet dog that sleeps at the foot of my bed. I meet it in a relationship with a friend and lover whose life has not hardened him like most people.
But none of these has opened me so much to my own innocence as has seeing it in every other human around me where it’s not so obvious and doesn’t want to be seen. Seeing it everywhere doesn’t come naturally. Seeing it everywhere is a practice. But seeing it everywhere is washing away the old defenses and creating more space for acceptance.
And seeing it everywhere is asking me to feel my grief. The grief of having spent an unknowable time unable to experience our shared innocence, the only place from which we can actually, truly connect.
So, I invite you to wonder aloud about your own innocence. What’s keeping you from asking him or her to come in from the cold and stay for while? How long has it been since you shared a cup of tea? Not just with proxies for your innocence in the form of children, lovers or loyal dogs, but in you.
Without a relationship to our own innocence, we will likely not recognize it in others. Without a relationship to our own innocence, we will struggle to understand much less actually forgive one another. Without a relationship to our own innocence, I feel with increasing urgency, we will not survive this next chapter of human evolution seeking expression on what feels like a very tender planet.
Lucky for us, it’s only a pivot of attention. Albeit a radical one.