Vincent is an artist. One bright and perfectly gorgeous morning he propped up a new blank canvas on his easel, once again excited by the possibility that anything can happen within that white space! Opening the jar of Naphthol Red Light, he picked up the brush with his right hand, dipped the brush into the jar of paint, touched the brush to the canvas… and suddenly experienced a lightning-bolt of pain in his head so intense that it caused his hand to shoot to the right across the canvas and off the side. He fell to the floor, writhing in the pain of his own private hell until Jenny came back with the groceries and found him. Without any preliminary warnings or signs an apparently healthy Vincent had a stroke and spent months in rehab before the day came when he could again walk back into his studio. There on the easel was the canvas with the red line across it. Vincent had it framed and hung on the wall in the studio as a visual embodiment of the precise demarcation between his old life and his unasked-for new reality. To this day it serves as a reminder to not waste time in being pissed off that his previous life has been taken from him since he is now aware… on a visceral level… that he doesn’t know how much time he might have left for all that he still wants to do.
Recently, I saw the following quip online: “My goal was to lose 10 pounds this year. Only 15 to go!” What is it about our life that we are not catching on to? What are we not observing about ourselves and how we live that can result in that 15 pounds? For all of us, no matter how enlightened we might think ourselves to be, there is a certain amount of unconsciousness in the living out of our days, so the next question is, “WHY are we unconscious?” “Were we never taught to pay attention? Do we not know HOW to pay attention? And what are we doing about our obliviousness? Anything?” When we were young, like Vincent, we bought into the lie that we had plenty of time to get around to everything, but in real life things happen that are beyond our control… strokes, earthquakes, hurricanes, fires… and these realities have the ability to reset the clock, to push it ahead and rob us of some of what we assumed we still had coming to us! Screaming “IT’S NOT FAIR!” doesn’t change a thing; Life does not care that we do not like losing!
And still we need to know how to go on beyond loss. When we are robbed of something or someone in our life, we grieve. Father David Rucker, a fellow priest-friend has very poignantly expressed the process of grieving, “When we suffer great loss, our sorrow is like a grenade gone off in our hearts, blowing shrapnel everywhere, leaving wounds that cannot be healed all at one time. To try and remove all of the shrapnel at one time would kill us, so we remove one piece at a time, and then wait for another to slowly make its way to the surface, where we then must deal with it and remove it in turn. Sometimes, this takes a lifetime and never fully heals, and our heart will never be the same, but healing does occur nevertheless, if we are willing to deal with the shrapnel as it surfaces.”
Healing does not mean that we will be the same as before. When loss of any kind comes our way, by whatever means… and whether or not we like having to deal with it… the grief for what was lost must be incorporated into our living; to refuse to deal with the shrapnel of grief is to stop living! And living, no matter how difficult, is better than the alternative. The fact is that, sometimes, we need to lose something in order for us to live more fully. Just ask Vincent!