Overexposure

“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.” –  Rabindranath Tagore

For the past five years, the whole month of February I am weepy.  I don’t get out much other than to do the essentials like teaching or grocery shopping.  I notice that I spend many hours on the couch watching Netflix.  A quick look at the month’s On This Day Facebook memories, shows that this time of year, for the last five years, I am very much on the brink of losing my shit.  I live in this impassioned indecision.  I want something, but I don’t know what it is and somebody better figure it out, stat.

Stuck to the couch, I was bracing myself for February 23rd.  My body and spirit were gripped for the onslaught of grief, regret, and fear that would come.  When I woke up that day, nothing happened.  I got up, had breakfast and drank coffee, did a little yoga, got inspired to write, taught classes, made dinner, had a glass of wine, cuddled the husband, and I went to bed.  All in all, it could be categorized as a pretty fine day.  It wasn’t that I forgot what day it was.  Momentarily I would check in with myself, “Are you sure?  Is that grief in there?”  And the grief is definitely in there, but on that particular day I just couldn’t feel it.

I had spent the whole month bracing for what was to come, and when the day finally came…nothing happened.  I was more curious than anything.  Was my month long bout of tearful indecision, how I grieve?  I couldn’t force or will grief to come, and it seemed that my body was the gatekeeper of memory and feeling.  Maybe my body remembered the February of five years ago when I called my father on Valentine’s Day and he didn’t know who I was.  Maybe it remembered the panic I felt when for the first time I realized my most of the time stoic and certain father was scared and confused.  It remembered staring into my closet wondering if I should pack a black dress and the shame of even entertaining the thought that I would need one.  It remembered the five hour drive across the state praying that I had made it in time and my arrival at his bedside to see he was only capable of grunts.  His reply to my, “I love you,” was just a gurgle; yet I remembered his mouth open just enough to see the tip of his tongue touch the roof of his mouth to say, “la.” That would have to be good enough.  My body remembered waiting on couches, sleeping on couches, for good news, any news.  My body remembered that his passing wasn’t like the movies:  No rage against the dying of the light or dramatic soap opera flat lines.  Just a quiet flutter back and forth like a moth.  I think I can still see him…or maybe he’s gone.  Wait…there he is…just barely.  Now, gone again.  Gone now for the last time.

That February five years ago, I spent it braced, waiting for news, waiting for death.  And when the moment arrived, it didn’t feel cathartic.  It felt frozen.  We went back to his house, watched Oprah, and sat on couches.  And every year after that year, every February, I spend it that same way.  Not because I’ve decided that it’s the best way to deal with grief, but because it’s what the body remembers.

This year, I was sitting in a TIMBo group meeting talking about how I was waiting for grief, and it wouldn’t come.  And in that moment, I felt this burning stomach pain like my abdomen was gripped in some hot pepper coated vice, and I said, “You know, I really feel fine…other than this stabbing, burning, stomach pain.”  The instant I said it my shoulders sank because I’ve been doing this “notice how you feel” thing enough to know that most of my body pain isn’t a coincidence.  As my group co-facilitator guided me back to feeling my body instead of talking about it, I felt that pain bubble up and turn into hot tears.

In many ways, I am learning to feel for the first time in thirty years.  This complete involuntary impulse to hide, disappear, freeze, and protect has kept me in this safe room of sorts…intact yet alone in a life only partially felt.  Yoga and walking help get me out of my stasis, but I find that it doesn’t offer the immediate relief it once did.  Now, in these moments of movement I become bombarded with painful memories: from witnessing death to embarrassing middle school mishaps.  It all feels like walking into sunlight after days in a darkened room.  The initial shock is enough to send me running the other way, back to the place I’m accustomed to, but I have to choose to stay in searing, burning light to remember what it feels like to live fully.  I witness every reentry into the feeling world knowing that there’s just that adjustment period until things get clear again.  I have to wait and have faith that after the spots clear from my eyes there will be something left worth seeing.

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