There are some things we can never plan for. This we know. There are so many songs about time moving on with our without us, about love, about love being lost, about losing ourselves and maybe (if we’re lucky) finding a way back into love.
I’ve written this. I’ve written things like this so many times when I lay awake at night the lines transcribe themselves onto the nerves of my brain trying to rewire it not to grieve or need when all I want to do is move forward with time. I’ve written this in my dreams where I travel back in time trying to conjure sense into senseless acts, when I create alternate endings. But, thankfully I always wake up.
Time is meant to bend, a paper we fold in half onto itself such that the past ever so lightly kisses the present. We meet in the middle, somewhere in the soft indentations, the creases.
18 years ago I entered my first poetry contest. 18 years ago I wrote in response to Anne Frank’s Diary, a holocaust, and so began my path of writing into grief. I write it this way purposefully so I’ll type it again – I write into grief. Like singing, in order to do it well you practice, work to increase your range, and rather than sing at each note, you sing through them. At least this is the way I’ve learned it. And the way I’ve learned about grief and how to grieve and about and how to heal didn’t come from looking at it as if examining it from the periphery, no….grieving and the healing that follows only came by walking into it barefoot, skin exposed ready to step on all the jagged rocks, shards, and objects I needed in order to make it
Two weeks ago my mother had me clean out my closest, bins of clothes, trinkets, and memorabilia I kept from my childhood and college years. Things happen for a reason. In unpacking, unfolding clothes and papers that I’d written notes on I see time crossing over.
I found the poetry contest certificate. In a year where my path has taken me further and farther away from poetry a reminder; what has been in my bones, hidden deep in the marrow has always been writing to make sense of the world. Sometimes you just need to find it again.
In those bins were other things I needed to find. 7 years ago, I was a “Poet Bound for Oxford” Everything was going how I had always planned it should until the unplanned happened. We lost a friend. Some lost a brother. Others a son or grandson. And I…well back then I thought I lost a friend, someone I loved, and I did lose and love him, but looking back through the lens of these 7 years I realize I also lost my naivety, my security in the world, my assuredness about things. I slipped, lost my footing.
I lost my place. And yet I found myself throughout these 7 years so I wonder. Is it possible to be losing and finding yourself at the same time? Or does finding true self involve losing parts of yourself that need to be let go of?
Since we’ve buried our friend I’ve been back to his home once for a memorial basketball tournament. His grandma gave me a jacket I found in those bins and just like that…the link between object and memory. Events I had tucked away in drawers in my mind came flying out.
Two weeks ago I found physical, tangible things, a pair of his sunglasses I’d held onto and pictures I need to return to his family. But during these 7 years I’ve also found the intangible, the barely explainable. Nearly one year ago I gave a TED talk about all of this… about how I hope to help others find healing by sharing my story. I believe in the power of stories to save lives.
This summer one of my students was experiencing grief around an event similar to mine. The hardest thing in my work is seeing my students cry, but as she described her situation and asked me how I dealt with similar emotions…it struck me, I knew the words to say because I’d been to similar places in my own grieving process. Somehow it all made sense to me because I was able to be there for her.
She needed my voice and words then just as much as I needed hers. We need our stories and we need our voices if anything to help us feel less alone in the world and to create connection.
Here it is.
I’d been wanting to write about these things, about suicide, about what I’ve learned and my impending trip back up to visit my friend’s grave, and how I am finally going to let go of things I’ve been holding on to for so long. I wanted to somehow tie it into what so many had experienced with the loss of Robin Williams. But, so much had already been said. With what happened we see how much one person can influence the lives of others and perhaps we can never fully know what another person on this earth is going through.
There are a lot of things I still don’t know. I am still young. I am still learning. But as a young poet writing you this letter dear Reader, I know that everything I’ve been through has made me the strong woman I am today. Working and interacting with the people I do today continually teaches me that words have the ability to harm but also uplift others. Words strung together into story have the power of creation within them. So let’s all harness that power. Create something beautiful.
I’ll leave you with words from my friend Marlon’s essay that I am going to publish soon because I think it speaks to all of us. I hope his message (and mine) speaks to you. If you are ever in doubt, remember:
“We need your voice, be someone’s north star. If not for someone else, do it for yourself. Because we are still inventing ways to tell your story, and adjectives, and endings. Stay with us.
I need you.”