A few days ago we were finally allowed to see our home of 26 years after the Woolsey wildfire took it down. The experience was surreal. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Glass, wood, metal. Sky where a roof should be. Crumpled ball of melted curtains. Tangles of metal that might have been a window frame or an oven door. An overwhelming, overpowering, seeping-into–the-fiber-of-your-clothes smell of smoke. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to step on bits of crunching glass and wood that, just last week, was your kitchen sink or your bathroom mirror.
Still, we are all right. And as hard as this time is, I trust that my body, mind, and spirit know how to heal if I listen with care. Here is what I have learned so far:
Some things are too big to take in all at once.
There’s an old adage that asks, What is the best way to move a mountain of dirt when all you have is a spoon?
One spoonful of dirt at a time.
I have no idea about what to do next. I don’t know how to sort through the rubble. I don’t know how to clear a site of debris. I don’t know how to build a house from scratch. So for now, I take out my spoon and move this little bit of dirt, trusting that if I do that a few million times, I will have moved the mountain. I’ve filed a claim and taken pictures and talked with my adjustor. For now, that is enough.
Your loss is your loss. Don’t magnify or minimize.
My husband and I moved to a nearby town last year, turning our beloved home over to renters who loved it as we did. I’m not experiencing the same chaos and despair as my friends who lost everything. But I raised a son in that home, celebrated birthdays and Thanksgivings and Halloweens and graduations. My heart is broken, even if many of the material things that matter to me remain. So although my loss isn’t the same as those of friends who are shopping for coats or scrambling to find a place to live, it is my loss. I’m letting it be whatever it is—no more, no less– from day to day, hour to hour.
My friend Robyn Posin wrote a book called Go Only as Fast as Your Slowest Part Feels Safe to Go. This turns out to be a terrific idea in general, and a brilliant one when you have suffered a major loss. I’m checking in with myself about every choice, trusting my “no” when I might otherwise have said yes.
I was in the middle of an important business call which had been scheduled weeks ago. The conversation was going all right for about ten minutes and then I began to tremble inside. In the past I would have tried to push on, but right now I don’t have any push. “I’m so sorry, but I’m going to have to stop.” My associate was understanding, and we agreed to reschedule a little ways down the road when I get my brain back again.
When you don’t know what to do, do whatever you do know how to do.
I’ve been feverishly cleaning and reorganizing the house we’ve been living in since last year. Bought a file cabinet and a desk at a thrift store. Sorted mail and filed papers. Cleaned out closets and drawers. I want my life to be organized and orderly, something I’ve never been good at but which has become very important.
When you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.
The other morning, after sitting in meditation, I noticed I wasn’t getting up to do anything useful. There wasn’t a thing in the world that felt compelling enough to get me to move. So I sat on the couch and looked out the window. For a long time. Then my husband suggested we go for a walk, and I liked that idea so we set out. When we arrived at the park, we discovered a Ugandan Children’s Choir was just about to begin singing a free Thanksgiving concert. We looked at each other in amazement as their joyful spirits and beautiful voices lifted us up. Sometimes when we are still, we are guided to the things that are most healing. Sometimes, it’s magical how things unfold when we get out of the way.
You may be surprised by who shows up, and who doesn’t.
I’ve often heard from friends dealing with illness or loss that the people they thought would be by their side disappeared while those they hardly knew became incredible sources of support. I have found this to be true.
Crises are excellent opportunities for reevaluating relationships. Keep your eyes open for those who want to be there for you. The helpers will always show up; they just may not be who you expected.
Enjoy your life.
Close friends drove nearly two hours to spend the day with us. We took a long walk, ate good food, and held on to each other a little more tightly. Fun, laughter, and friendship are great healers. Enjoy your life.
Spend time in nature.
Spending time outdoors smooths our rough edges when life is spinning a little too fast. Spending time in the woods or riding my bike in the sunshine has become my medicine. We humans do better in nature.
I can’t deny that this stretch on the road of my life is a really bumpy one. I cry easily, need to take a lot of breaks when I’m working, and have needed extra hugs. But I have faith that by moving slowly and allowing friends to prop me up a little more than usual, things will right themselves again.
May you, too, find solace in those things that bring you comfort when the seas of life are stormy. It’s not easy being human, but if we move slowly, treat ourselves kindly, and reach out for support, we always find our way.