"Gosh, you are so pretty."
This was the last thing Dream Megan said to me before I woke up at sunrise today. I thought about going back to sleep, sliding my leg over so that it pressed against hers and ignoring the sunlight that still manages to make its way into our room, despite the blackout shade. Our bedroom window and front door are east-facing, so every weekday morning I have a perfect view of the sun coming up from behind the apartment buildings across the parking lot while I have coffee on the couch and wait until it's time to wake up Eli. Our kitchen window is west-facing, so every evening I have a perfect view of the sun setting way off behind the two trees that were thankfully planted in the green area behind our building. The sky explodes into pinks and purples and oranges and it all filters right into our kitchen while I'm making dinner, like I'm in some awful movie called Under the Phoenician Sun or something, and I'm learning to deal with grief and crippling self-doubt through the meditative practice of cooking. The soundtrack is heavy on Bon Iver and Fleetwood Mac. Lots of Simon and Garfunkel, too. The montage is set to "Keep the Customer Satisfied" and it's me making all sorts of breads at all hours of the day and night. Flour everywhere. Searching for meaning in this mixed-up world.
I mean MAYBE that movie is my real life, whatever.
Anyway I didn't go back to sleep. I got right up and came downstairs to greet that silly ass cat and put my dying philodendron in the doorway for some morning sun. Does this help the philodendron? Who knows. Someone knows actually, but it's not me. For all I know I'm just killing it in a new way every day. Life is a mystery and also a real bargain!
Have you ever learned of someone's existence only because they died, and then you became a little temporarily obsessed with them and then, on at least two occasions, you found yourself scrolling endlessly through their Instagram feed, and their girlfriend's, and their sister's? For like, an hour? Ok WELL I have definitely done that, more than once. I DON'T KNOW WHY. It's weird and fucks with my headspace and I always wish I'd spent my time doing pretty much anything else! But this is what I found myself doing Saturday afternoon, and it's the reason Dream Megan told me how pretty I was before I woke up this morning.
I found this particular person in the spring, just after he'd died in a motorcycle accident, because I happen to follow a friend of his girlfriend's on Instagram and she'd posted about them — her friend and the friend's now-dead boyfriend — and it was so sad and sudden, and such an entirely unexpected addition to my morning (to say nothing of how sad, sudden and unexpected it was for the people who actually knew him), that I couldn't help but click on through to the girlfriend's feed, and then the boyfriend's. (I could link to all of these people but that would be so incredibly bizarre and therefore I shan't.) I scrolled through photo after photo of these inordinately attractive people living what looked like inordinately Instagrammable lives, totally unaware that one of them was not long for this world, and that the other would soon find herself grief-stricken and gutted and without him. I read the captions — short stories, really — that buzzed with excitement and love for each other (and for coffee, of course). I went in order and recreated their last trip together, watching them inch closer to what they didn't know was about to happen. I lit a candle for these people and bundled up some sincere love and sympathy and sent it off to this woman I'd never met and never will. I realized I had room for someone else's grief, so I left that space open for her.
I used to feel self-centered and confused when I'd be overwhelmed with grief for people I didn't know, for tragedies that hadn't happened to me at all. I talked with Megan about this after a recent mass fatality, confessing that I was worried my subconscious was just looking for any reason to be sad, because I didn't even know these people but I was feeling their deaths so acutely, and I felt like I didn't have a right to that grief.
"Do you think that it helps?"
"Yes, I do. I do think it helps."
"Like maybe if I'm carrying some of the sadness, it's lightening the sadness for them? Like if enough of us hold some of the grief, the people who were left behind will get a little break? There can only be so much grief, right? It's gotta be easier to deal with if we share it."
"Maybe. Yes, probably."
I decided see it this way from then on: that if I could, I'd make room for other people's crushing grief so they might feel a few seconds of lightness. (Megan has a way of never mentioning the similarities between what she knows as traditional prayer and whatever it is I'm talking about doing, which I greatly appreciate.)
Sometimes I don't have the room, or else I realize that lending the room to other people would bring me too far below the surface, so I don't offer it. Instead I send out a burst of the brightest energy I can muster and then I get the heck out of there — out of the headspace, out of the story I'm reading, out of the room. I throw socks at my dog. (She likes it.) I make a loaf of bread. I mop the floor.
After a couple of weeks of being particularly down and struggling to stay above that surface, I thought about the girlfriend again yesterday, and again scrolled through the photos. It felt like a worse idea this time, like it would just push me right under, but I didn't let that stop me. Heck no! I read more of his captions than I had before and realized how thoroughly stupid sweet they were. Just earnest and goofy and really, really in love with this girl. He'd written the kindest, most head-over-heels things about her, and I found myself thinking truly absurd things like, "No one could ever say that about me. I'm not sunshine or gentle or inspirational or anything like that! I'm depressive and grumpy and my nerves are almost always shot and I probably make everyone miserable!"
The mind is a weird place, what can I say.
Then I made my way back to one of her latest photos, with a long caption that included this bit, which I thought was pretty profound and true and beautiful:
But if going through that most painful thing results in proof that on the other side there is Healing that causes us to see with eyes open wider than before, to love harder than before, and to carry joy deeper than before...what’s left to be afraid of?
And THEN I thought, COME ON LANEIA. Come on. What are you even doing here? What are you even doing anywhere? Like, what if I just pretended to be sunshine and gentle and inspirational? Hm? What then? I can be sunshine! Shit, I can be so gentle you'd think I was sprouting the most delicate butterfly wings from my fingertips.
And then I did!
Pretended, I mean, not the butterfly wings part. I pretended to not be depressed and I pretended to fully wrap my head around the idea of grief being a way to open your eyes and heart wider and not be afraid. I remembered this thing I wrote:
Even with a million reminders every day that things don’t stay the same, I’m supposed to pretend that I think my life is different? That we’re safe here, in this happy place? I’m supposed to stop worrying all the time, and start relaxing into this.
I’m supposed to stop feeling like life is just a series of heres that I won’t be able to keep.
And I told myself, YES THAT'S EXACTLY RIGHT, DUMMY. NOW GO.
I cleaned my house and read a book and had some raspberry leaf tea and pretended to be a pile of sunshine. I fell asleep thinking about cakes, and while I slept my dear sweet subconscious heart reminded me that someone totally does say those things about me. Someone does believe I'm at least a little gentle, maybe even inspirational, quite possibly sunshine. She definitely believes I'm not the worst thing that's ever happened to her or this world, and that counts for more than just something.
I spent some time looking at cake recipes while the cat ate her breakfast by the front door. Nothing I found seemed perfect, so I made a frankenrecipe for pineapple upside down cake by combining and tweaking four separate recipes, and sweet lord it was amazing. Later today I'll visit Mema by cooking pork chops and fried apples. It's how we talk these days, and she always shows up.