We aren’t showing up for life, so death is showing up for us.
It started gradually, when we normalized cancelling plans in favor of solo Netflix nights and the quirky cuteness (?) of voluntary self-isolation. Social media and texting took the place of hangouts and phone calls. We got used to the solitary connection of virtual platforms, and with our pills and our memes convinced ourselves it was preferable.
Then it snowballed, just a little, when we heard there was an impending threat of death, like it came from absolutely nowhere rather than the insidious decay of connection. For some, it was a justification of anxiety and poor health, a chance to be utterly comfortable in the discomfort of dictated necessary isolation. For others, it came as a relief: they were already drowning in busyness, near collapsed from fatigue, hopeless and overworked – and now they would get a break. For many, too many, it was welcomed, this seemingly identifiable enemy of life, this threat of painful, quick, viral death, because it was something we could fight.
And we all knew there would be a fight, someday soon, didn’t we?
So we welcomed it, or we fought it, or we collapsed or relaxed into it, because it was temporary and necessary and, frankly, mandatory. Fourteen days to flatten the curve, and then we’d see. Fourteen days to take a break, let the earth heal, spend time at home with our wine and weed and Netflix.
The snowball turned into an avalanche when righteous compassion was levied against thoughtful contemplation or justifiable outrage. Those who wanted to show up could not. The hush money ran out. The weight of exhaustion, unidentifiable fear, anxiety, and isolation rose up again from the temporary box we’d put it in, stronger now for its fuel.
Death itself became the hungry chaos of nightmares, and we began to embody it on the streets, in our newsfeeds, and with our weapons whatever-they-may-be.
Oh, yes. We showed up for death, didn’t we? En masse, we arrived. Ready to fight for this chaos, this separation, this death.
Two Christian ideas come to mind to help explain what I mean here. The first is an old Jehovah’s Witness adage that hell does not exist; it is simply being imprisoned in the grave, separate from God, for all eternity. The second is that “sin” is simply the turning away from and absence of God’s Love.
And as we showed up for death, so much more visibly and vocally than ever before, with our masks and our riots, our guns and our pontifications, our unfriendings and namecallings and public lynchings both literal and metaphoric – the chaos that is death that is separation rather than Love showed up for us.
We see fires with smoke so thick our masks don’t work. We see mothers drowning in anxiety and the airlessness that arrives when our roles become greater than the bonds of our motherhood. We see the fabric of our society ripped apart by utter commitment to righteousness, and our children suffering behind computer screens and smileless masks and daydrinking and adults glued to social media arguments that aren’t even real and where did playgrounds go and when will they hug their friends and why can’t grandma bake cookies anymore and and and
We stopped showing up for Life.
Like it was easy. Like it was necessary. Like it would … save lives.
And now we try to eat at our favorite restaurant because we cannot bear another round of dishes and the color of our own walls, but the restaurant is mysteriously closed. And we finally decide to get back to yoga, to our practice, and we find that the studio has drowned. Or we reach out to our healers to learn they have vacated our sanctuaries, or drowned – themselves – in empathetic overload. And we see our small businesses and the owners who are our friends drowning, too, and we wonder what will be left when the smoke, both literal and metaphoric, clears.
And it is death we find, wherever we look, instead of life.
This terrifies us, doesn’t it? It makes us want to fight, to stand up and shout or stay home so it finally ends, or to comply so we stop being punished or to hold fast to our rights lest noncompliance become truly more criminal than it already is (and how could that even be, when noncompliance is a death sentence for black men and brown women and the ones in Beirut who were bombed on camera but we believed it was a warehouse of fucking fire crackers like are we blind or do we just NOT CARE) –
Terror fuels death, which is chaos, which is separation from Love.
And the only way to stop it is to show up for life, instead.
I used to have a dream, a recurring dream, as a child. It followed me from bed to bed, from trauma to trauma, from homelessness to addiction to abuse and back around again, wherever I went, this dream. It went like this:
I was so afraid my heartbeats were drums in my ears, so loud in fact each drumbeat heart-thump shook the very earth around me. Consumed with terror, I ran and gasped for air and all around me tornadoes burst into existence. They were horrifying things, consuming everything they touched, the trees I loved and all my safe spaces and maybe even my little sister if I didn’t protect her – so I ran, but every footfall was fuel for the tornadoes, I realized. They grew exponentially with each panicked step I took. Eventually, I knew I had to force myself to stop running and to be as still as I possibly could (which is very difficult for a terrified child to do) (but I am a strong child, so I would do this thing). I stopped, I became still. And the tornadoes would lose some of their size, but each time they moved closer to me or grew a little darker, I could not help but gasp and my heart would pound and this, too, would fuel the funnel. So I learned to slow my breath and calm my heart and . . . . eventually, I found a way to extinguish the onslaught of tornadic fury with my own peaceful stillness – even in the face of my fear.
And, eventually, the dreams ceased their haunting.
What will this avalanche of chaotic separation-death consume? Restaurants, yoga studios, businesses – we can rebuild these. Liberties, laws, jobs – we can remake these. Smiles, memories of grandma’s bosom scent and the way a toddler learns to walk, and what kindergarten can be like and how high can we swing before we flip over the bars, and what it was like before he killed himself and remember when mommy didn’t drink all day or had a job or what it was to have a community . . . perhaps these, like dreams, can recur.
What we show up for comes for us with gusto, I know that much.
Chaos is a hungry beast. Love is a generous God.
From which will we separate, and what are we willing to give to our righteousness to see it through? And who is even asking these questions, and will anyone answer, or are we too attached to our memes and our screens and our weed and wine and what we kNow iS RiGHt?
From where I sit, dreaming yet awake, I see a lot of showing up for death going on, and a lot of tornadoes manifesting with flames and smoke, this time.
But I will always find that peace, and in my stillness – even in the face of fear – I know that the power we have is innate, and is pure, and is waiting behind the chaos. I know what it is to show up for life. And I know love as a result.
Join me, before there is nothing but wasteland filling this space between what was and what can or will be. Join me in connection and presence. Join me in stillness, and notice that connection seeps in when we are here. It just IS. All we need do is allow it.
“The broken year will make no change
Upon her wise and whirling heart; –
She knows how people always plan
To live their lives, and never do.”
– Mary Oliver, from A Letter from Home