The Journey Through
Some things are not possible to put into words. They require art… a story, a picture, a song. Pain is like this. So I will spare all the words and instead share a story. A story of hunger. And of pain.
The coronavirus has given us the gift of time. This gift does not always feel like a gift. In fact, this gift of time for me (and many others) has felt lately a whole lot like pain. Like discomfort. Don’t get me wrong, there are beautiful and wonderful gifts in all of this too. That’s what makes it harder. It’s like opening a pile of presents and scattered in with the beauty and wonder, there are bits and pieces of shit. Shitty memories and thoughts; reminders of the past that we are still enough to recall and feel. Shitty habits that return as we have less opportunity to replace them. Shitty feelings about all that is going on “out there” and what this means for us, for our families, and for our world. Shitty packages… smelly, alarming and confusing in their presence. And even when you toss them aside and return to the beauty you can feel and smell their stench. The coronavirus is a lot like this for me. And I think for my family too.
So the story… this weekend I was starting to feel overwhelmed by the gift of pain. The stench was getting to me and I couldn’t breathe. I was feeling suffocated and overwhelmed. I of course blamed my spouse for this and we had it out. What followed for me was the gift of being alone with my pain. He took the kids for a hike and I ran away (quite literally) with the baby in the stroller. I resisted the urge to leave my pain and cling to something else and instead my pain and I hung out for a while. This was uncomfortable, but transformative. I ran, I meditated, I wrote, I showered… by the time we reunited as a family I felt connected to myself again… and our family had grown. Grown by two frogs to be exact. My husband and two oldest had found two frogs on their hike and these slimy little creatures were now our newest and most exciting gifts!
Fast forward to a day later and a frog less. The smaller frog had been in our bathtub for the better part of a day and we decided that we needed to return this little guy to his home before it was too late for him too. His larger frog friend had disappeared in the night and we didn’t know if he had run away or a larger predator had gotten him. The little frog had been tormented enough by that I’m sure, and then by a day of bathing with children and being stuck in a bathtub. There he sat in the bathtub, where he was grabbed and released repeatedly by little children at their whims - for hours. The poor little guy had actually changed colors. He was pale and was not looking good. We had been inside all day and decided it was time to release him. This started happily enough. We hiked deep into the woods, released the little guy, watched him desperately seek shelter in his familiar habitat, and then were on a search for another frog to capture and call our own. My son, freshly 5 and a deep feeler, thinker and observer was desperate to find a new friend. A new gift. You see… kids feel the pain of all of this too. They feel it just as deeply, if not deeper, than we do. My son has been seeking gifts right and left. Donuts, sweets, toys, “cool things”, movies, shows. These are the gifts he has been desperate for to counteract the shit packages we are all dealing with at the moment. The frogs though, these were the ultimate gifts and distractions. And although they brought much joy and pleasure, releasing them was too much for his little soul to bare. So when it became clear that there would be no replacement frog, no gift to take the place of the pain, it was unbearable. He became flooded with all the pain in an instant. He was forced to be still, in the woods, with ALL the shit. For him, this took the form of hunger. Again, pain is hard to describe so we try and attach all of these free floating, indescribable feelings to someone or something, in this case, for him, it was hunger (the day before, for me, it was my husband). All of a sudden he was insatiably hungry. But this was no physical hunger. Not completely at least. This was a deep longing to be fed. A deep need to fill this aching hole of pain and loss. A desperation to escape the confusion, the unknowns, the weirdness of it all. And deep in the woods there was no way to escape it. There was no frog. There was no food. There were no toys. There was nothing but a boy in the woods with his bike. And the only way to get home was to move through it all. And that is what we did. We moved slowly and painfully. He screamed in agony the whole way. Deep, primal screams. Sobbing, yelling, collapsing, grasping himself in pain, crouching over despondent. This lasted for almost 2 miles. Freshly 5 years old. Biking through wet, muddy, hilly trails, for almost 2 miles. In agony. There is no other word to describe it. He was in agony. And there was nothing I could do but stay with him as he moved through the pain. To be a witness to his pain. To believe that he could do it. It was a LONG 2 miles to say the least. He screamed. He collapsed. He got up. He rode. He stopped again. He walked. We took it one section of the trail at a time. He wanted me to go away but also desperately wanted me near. He was angry at me, but also needed my presence. I stayed steady. Breathing. Coaching. Just get to that next tree. Just get up this hill. Just put one foot in front of the other. This feels impossible but you will make it home. He screamed in reply “I won’t!” “No I won’t”. It was a very very shitty 2 miles. But the kind of shit that fertilizes a garden full of beautiful and nutritious plants. The good shit. You see I recognized that hunger. That loneliness. That desperation. I knew it wasn’t about the food. He was working through All The Shit. He needed to do that. I did not pick up his bike for him. He had to do it. And don’t you know, that boy… that freshly 5 year old boy… he made it home. By the time we got out of the woods and onto the rode it was raining (as if this wasn’t hard and uncomfortable enough!). He got on his bike and had another moment on the road. Another moment of collapse. Of despair. I stayed. I saw him. I shared with him that I saw him, in all his struggle. In all his pain. And also in all his strength. And then he got on his bike and don’t you know… that little freshly 5 year old boy turned to me and said “ok if I just go ahead?” and he went off on his own. Fast and strong all the way home. By the time he got home he had almost forgotten his hunger. He was proud and strong. He had grown. He happily joined his sisters for a snack and went on to have a great night full of more pleasant gifts. Gifts of time and togetherness, of comfort. But none as powerful as that painful journey.
For someone who has spent her life trying to control and fill and escape, this was deeply transformative for me too. To see him in all that pain, with no way but through. I was in awe. So many moments prior to and since that day, I have felt just like that freshly 5 year old little boy. I have felt that I am making my way through screaming, collapsing, hungry, and in pain. And now… now I feel like we will never get there, wherever “there” is going to be as all of this fades. At times I feel like I want to be alone in my pain, to escape, to collapse. To journey through the pain on my own. And other times, I desperately want someone just there. Just coaching me along, holding space and hope for me that I will get home. We have all had a lot of losses. This increased stillness triggers a lot of pain. AND there are also so many beautiful and pleasant gifts. It’s all there. Mixed up together in a big pile. And when we feel desperately hungry, desperately seeking…. It’s not about the frog or the food. It’s an invitation to a journey of pain. Take the journey… it’s transformative. It’s the good shit.