All week long I’ve felt out of sorts. I’ve felt one step this side of anger that didn’t feel grounded anywhere. On the edge. Close enough to feel the energy of being angry, but not close enough to really get a handle on what was going on inside of me.
Maybe it’s the residue from all the violence and emotions from last week. Boston. Watertown. West, Texas. Upside-down, turn-us-on-our -heads days. These events came from out of nowhere and now many of us are left feeling deeply, but not sure if there’s anything to do about it.
Maybe that’s the emotion that’s overwhelming me now. It’s the intensity of everything from last week and now the following week having nowhere to focus all the emotions. It just feels like unfocused anger.
Grief is messy. It’s particular and familiar. It can be personal and it can be collective. It’s white-hot-immediate and feels unending.
Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross’s work from the 70’s and 80’s sometimes gets pigeon-holed in the notion of “The Five Stages of Grief.” Somehow many of us use this as a roadmap for our grief journey. With this image of a checklist, we think that if we identify one of the emotions in ourselves (“denial,” “anger,” “depression”) we’ll check it off and think that we’re done with it. Instead of a checklist, her work is an entryway into grief. Grief’s emotions are fluid. They move into and through and around and back. Grief is not items on a checklist that gives us an illusion of being in control. Instead grief is the living in and through our experience and then learning to weave it into our story.
Recently I was with a family around a bedside of a dying matriarch. Tender tears were being shed. As I invited the family to pray the 23rd Psalm, I was amazed at all that I heard. Each prayed at her own pace. Each in his own voice. Familiar words recited since childhood. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” We all began together and then individually found our way. Eventually we finished. To someone unfamiliar with the psalm, it would have sounded chaotic and a jumble of words. But for that moment it was faith, hope and love all wrapped together. At that bedside, I was reminded that shared prayer, much like grief can appear to be messy.
This past week felt mostly just long and exhausting. So imagine my delight when I realized that I was visited by an angel yesterday morning. One of the highlights of my week is walking to Evans to meet friends for breakfast. I was at a corner, waiting for a red light and standing next to a lady who was carrying several bags. I said something mundane to her and she said something about how hard the past week was. When I agreed, she immediately said, “I’m so thankful for the weekend.” “Amen,” I told her. She went on to bring me back home. “I’m so glad I’ve got all weekend to pray.” Hebrews 13:2 (“entertaining angels unawares”) was being shared right there in the middle of downtown Decatur. And thankfully I could hear it.
From fist to open hand takes a great intention. Brain cells and muscle endings (and beginnings). It's not an organic thing. And so is the intention to move from anger to openness …. Or reconnection …. Or re-entry. It is an intention.
Anger is what it is. It takes a lot of energy and can take on a life of its own. It has had its time with me for this week. And so now I will pay attention to the message I got on a street corner from a total stranger ~ and take advantage of the time I’ve been given this weekend. Close. Open. Holding on. Letting go. Amen.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.