Tuesday's Attention #14
Dinner with a Stranger and Grief
Dinner with a Stranger and Grief
Recently I had the joy of attending the wedding of a woman who loved and cared for me when I was a 15 year old girl trying to figure out the world around me. Chelsea was one of the younglife leaders in the community I grew up in. As a teenager, I was drawn to her warmth, her joy, her freedom in dancing, her taste in music, and her ability to connect and embrace others. 10 years later, I’m still drawn to all those characteristics of her. Now though, even without seeing one another or communicating too often, I see and understand more of the depth behind what it is I admire in her. As I sat at her wedding and took in the night, I noticed beauty and intentionality within every detail of the day.
One of the details of the night was our seating for dinner. Over the years, I’ve come to learn that I love assigned seats. It’s probably why I was a teacher who generally structured her class with intentionality of seating. Although some kids really don’t like it, I think for many others it makes them feel less anxious. There is direction. There is stability and consistency in your day-to-day life, at least within class. While weddings are only one night, I’ve found that having a seat at a table already prepared for me gives me an ease. At this wedding, I was seated next to a dear friend Maggie and a man I had never met named Troy.
Dinner was a little delayed and that sweetly opened up space to really talk with the people besides me. Maggie and I caught up for a while, but then I eventually ended up in conversation with Troy. We talked about how we both knew Chelsea and then we ended up talking about what we do. I never quite know what to tell people what I do at this point. Asking others what they do is usually a simple question to engage in conversation; however, for me in this season, the question feels connected to my grief and feels quite vulnerable.
Despite being confronted with vulnerability, I choose to share briefly with Troy about this in-between place I am in due to my health. He didn’t wait for me to give a “but… I’m learning and there has been a lot of beauty in it all”. I’m good at doing that; I had those words prepared. Instead, Troy replied,
“Man, that is a really hard place to be in. Have you been able to lament? Have you been able to say to God, ‘what the hell?’”
I was caught off guard and refreshed by his questions. A bit of release came over me as I knew I didn’t have to give the energy to attend to someone else’s discomfort. He got it. We could share in the difficulties of the in-between place of grief.
His reply led to a conversation about lamenting and seasons of hardship. He humbly shared about the freedom he has found in lamenting through some difficult circumstances. I sat there, encouraged, forgetting that we hadn’t eaten yet.
I’ve been thinking about his questions ever since he asked them. I’ve had friends ask me very similar questions, but sometimes it takes an honest moment of connection with a stranger for it to sink in. He did not have to choose to engage in a conversation that was not resolution oriented or tied together with a bow of the good that’s come from the hard. It is so much easier to not, especially at a wedding. Sometimes it’s nice to just keep things light. I was so grateful he didn’t though.
For a little bit of time, I forgot I was at a wedding.
Once people were on the dance floor, I made my way over to the bride to give her a quick hug. I wasn’t sure if I would make the wedding because I was supposed to have an infusion treatment two days prior that would have knocked me down for a few days. However, I ended up not having the infusion and so I was able to make it. Chelsea wrapped me in a big hug and took me in with her warm embrace. And then she said, “I sat you next to Maggie and Troy, I hope that has been good to you!”
How simple and humbling that detail of care was. It was a bridge for me to step into a new month with my grief: honest lamenting.
Sometimes, in the most unlikely of places, with the most unlikely of people, we are freed up to be fully honest with the place we are at. Sometimes it is a stranger who gives us the courage to ask a question like, “what the hell God?” and to then lament through that question. Sometimes, we have the opportunity to be that stranger— we have the opportunity to give someone the choice to not have to ease the discomfort in the hard place. We can say, “that’s really hard” and not provide a resolution nor a positive side to it all. Most of the time, people do not even need many words— just the caring presence of someone willing to sit within the hard place or a willingness to acknowledge the pain and to grieve it too.
The most powerful moments I have had in this past year have been the moments when a friend has sat with me and, as tears have rolled down my eyes, so too have tears rolled down theirs. Or vice versa. That’s not to say that we’d always want that to happen when we share about hard things in our life— that would be quite overwhelming and draining. However, in those rare moments where there is the space to grieve alongside someone else, open yourself up to that power. Remind someone that they have permission to feel and remind yourself that you do too. You can lament. You can say “God, what the hell?” and you can be angry. You can be sad. See what will come out on the other side of allowing yourself to do so.
Bitterness does not grow from leaning into our anger, it grows from leaning away from it. Grief does not multiply when we hold space for it, it releases.
Allow it to be released.
Words That Are Leading Me Into Attention:
This week I stumbled upon the Literary Hub where there are many essays/articles written by various authors on the craft of writing. One in particular was written about grief. This is a long excerpt, but the context was necessary for the last few lines. It gave me relief and a reminder that we do not yet have to have the words for whatever it is we are grieving.
“... I ask her about her lover, her job, her health. We haven’t corresponded in months and so as I write there is a sense of stiff muscles warming. Only at the very end, when I feel sufficiently tender, do I say, I hope the writing is going well.
To an outsider, this statement might sound cold. Writers know it as anything but. When I say, I hope the writing is going well, I am saying, I hope you are able to access the truest part of yourself, I am saying, I hope you feel thrillingly alive to possibility, I am saying, I hope you feel human…
Walking is writing. Crying is writing. Talking to a parent whose health you fear for is writing. Cooking is writing. Lying prostrate on the rug and watching the sun stripe the wall is writing. Your lover’s hand on yours is writing. Your dog is writing. I have had years in which I could not see the shape of my life or string together a good sentence; and I have had a summer in which, three years later, the fog lifted in a different climate and suddenly I could write about my father. Don’t force the words. They will come, like old friends. You do not have to walk on your knees / for a hundred miles. If you are grieving, then I give you permission to write in the best way you can— which is to say, to live.” - C Pam Zhang
There has been a lot of grief in our country, world, and in the lives of those I love. Many of you, in your inner world, are grieving. We talk about the heart-breaking news, but it is hard to actually talk about the grief attached to that news. If you don’t have the words though, that’s okay. Grieve how you need and in whatever way feels healing to you.
At the end of every newsletter, I want to leave you all with some questions/prompts to think on. If you ever want a friend to hear your thoughts, feel free to share them back with me through email! I always love to read and to listen.
When is a time when a stranger made you feel free to just be fully in your humanity? Write about that time.
Connected to the quote shared, what has been “writing” for you without actually writing? Lean into that this week. Create with whatever that thing is.
Write a letter to your grief. This can be where you give your grief permission to be and release or where you are curious with it or where you want to almost have a conversation with it. See what comes of this.
Whether you are in a season of grieving or in a season of rejoicing, I grieve and rejoice with you. If you need to cry, it is okay to cry. If you need/want to dance, dance your heart out. And maybe ask a friend to join you in either.
As you carry on into this week, may your days ahead be filled with words that encourage you, laughter that heals you, and moments of beauty that pull your attention in and bring you to slow down.
May you know that you, yourself, are worth paying attention to.
About Tuesday’s Attention:
This Newsletter was born out of a desire to stay attentive to the world around me, to encourage others to create and to pay attention, and to connect more closely with a readership. If you enjoy these newsletters, you can also support my writing through becoming a part of my Patreon community to get access to more of my writing content. The writing that I do is 100% supported by readers and so any and all support— whether that is you reading this newsletter, sharing it with others, and/or being a part of my Patreon means the absolute world to me. Thank you for being here. It is a joy to share this space with you all.