It's like clockwork. Every year. Like the shadows of old injuries that ache when it's coming on to rain. How do we live through the muscle memory of the darkest days we've faced in this life, how does one brace for impact, when the flood will come as surely as the month of August; when the waves will take on a new but always whelming shape with each season of grief?
My response to this season is to get restless. I need something to do with my hands. I take on projects. I make lists. I cook. I fill the calendar with efforts at happy memory making. I get anxious. I wonder why I can't make decisions. I wonder why everything looks too big. I wonder why all my stuff is so shabby and I start looking for new stuff.
My friends and family see it, they see it happening and they know what it is. And they love me. They write songs for my family called, "Always Looking For A Home." They tell me the restlessness I feel is probably more of a spiritual longing than a physical one. They bring me gifts and sweet notes to let me know they remember what happened that day 8 years ago.
I don't know why, but knowing what to call a thing takes away some of its power. I remember when I first learned to identify the feeling of anxiety. It was such a revelation, just knowing what to call that shallow-breathing, panicky, pit-in-my-stomach feeling. Even though I still get anxious, I can tell myself, "This is anxiety. I know what this is." And then I breathe in and out, and remember what Suzanne the yoga instructor always said, "Healing oxygen will go right where it's needed." I think it's the same with grief.
Before I had any firsthand experience with grief, I thought it looked and felt like sadness. But now I know better. I know sadness is only one of the many shapes grief assumes. In A Grief Observed, CS Lewis said, "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning..." For me, it's the restlessness, the want to be somewhere else, do something else, have something else. The urge to run. Without fail, it gets more palpable at this time of year. I feel it most acutely when the days are long and hot, when the air hangs heavy, when I feel more than remember long ago summers spent picking raspberries and chasing grasshoppers and sleeping under the stars with the brother to whom every day was an adventure, and whose adventure took him where I can't follow.
And yet. Even though this restless summer feeling has its origin in grief, I think the feeling is much bigger. I think grief unlocked something that was already present, something that everyone feels, something we can't define, something we try to explain or medicate away. CS Lewis said it's what the Germans call sehnsucht, "That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves." It's the spirit that animates the songs of John Denver, the melancholy-laced hope in Fernando Ortega's voice, the catch in my throat when my baby tries her best to laugh at me. It's the shadow of a great grief, present in all the world, an ancient grief that has been reconciled in eternity, the consequences of which we continue to feel in time. It's the longing for a home, that perfect place where all is as it should be. And even though I've never experienced such a place, the yearning I feel for it is like a memory, the details of which I can't quite recall; like a song I might have heard when I was very young, the tune of which haunts my dreams but eludes my waking mind. Why does the longing for heaven feel so much like nostalgia, when it's a place I've never been?
But my brother is there. He's there now, whole, as he should be, at home, at peace, further up and further in. And I am comforted. I live in this beautiful world, bruised by sin and suffering, and I hope.
"For them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before." --The Last Battle, CS Lewis