Her shadow grows 6 ft tall as we stand before the rising sun, watching hot air balloons drift in the west, farther and farther south, out of our view.
This was on the heels of a day at the hospital where I sat with a friend whose husband lies unconscious. He’s only 45 years old.
Life is full of so many things, I think to myself as I gaze up into the sky at those hot air balloons and feel the sheer joy of a little kid and the magic of these colorful things floating off into the sky carrying wizards to Oz and eccentric millionaires around the world in 80 days.
Life is full of so many things.
When grief hits us, the world blurs as our ability to process things around us pauses, and our minds sit in the shock of what just happened. All we can do is try to wrap our minds around the world as it is now.
And then, in time, we may experience a shift. If we keep our eyes open, the depth of grief we experience will begin to correspond with a strange depth of joy. It is as if the grief dug into our hearts, drilling deeper and deeper until we thought we would break. We felt pain that seemed like it would break us, pain that was unbearable.
It’s so important to keep living at this time.
It’s so important to keep looking, watching, observing, and being part of the world so that we can see the hot air balloons.
These thoughts pass through my mind as I wake up the morning after I took the “Introduction to Bookbinding Workshop” at the San Francisco Center for the Book. I discovered the Center for the Book during a midday walk, part of my regular routine when my son is in the hospital. For years, I watched their website, noted the dates of their workshops, poured over descriptions, and wished I could participate in one.
I made my plans, reserved my spot, and put it on the calendar. I made additional plans to wander the city, visit its bookstores, and visit the old spots, those spots of beauty I found in the midst of grief that I wrote about in my memoir.
But plans changed.
Instead of recapturing those past emotions of wonder in the midst of grief, I went and sat by the side of my friend in the hospital. This was the better place to be, where I now hold and treasure moments and memories in my heart, things I feel utterly unworthy of having witnessed, that are so much bigger than me or her or all the world, where something greater is at work, however devastatingly sad it is.
And then, I left for the workshop.
It seems so strange and inappropriate to go and do something light-hearted, fun, and without gravitas after such depth and weight and seriousness. The last time I attended a workshop in San Francisco, my son was in the hospital, and there was that strange feeling again.
But as much as it feels like to do justice to the situation, we must always be grieving, we are not built that way.
So I see the hot air balloons, I make paper notebooks in a 3-hour workshop, and I can well understand the motivation behind a Superintendent who wants to unify a mascot across schools when there’s more “serious business” going on and Hughson city staff who want to implement sidewalk art for a bit of whimsy on our downtown streets.
But I can also understand the temptation to stay in that place of the hard things, the drudgery, and the sadness and seriousness of life. We’re facing inflation, international tensions, wars abroad and political wars at home, pressures left and right from never-ending politics and election cycles, personal tragedies, financial stresses, and the hardship of just having relationships in an ever-changing world that pulls us and distracts us for profit. It can be hard to stop, look, and think about how in the midst of this, I can make the world a more beautiful place.
The first step
I think the first step is for us to take those walks, to see the beauty, to indulge in it a little. To stop and smell the roses, as the old saying goes. And then, once we have begun to do that, then it becomes easier to see what little I could do to be part of this. Plant to seed, offer a smile, visit the sick or elderly, and read a book to a child.
The city didn’t receive any submissions for that sidewalk art project. So if you have some artistic bent or even just some good ideas of the way that our shadows can take shape in our imaginations, maybe consider sending a sketch on paper or a digital drawing, and see if there’s something you can do to add to someone else’s walk. You don’t know what kind of smile it might bring in the midst of great sadness. That is the beauty of these little offerings, these short workshops, these flower gardens, and a hot air balloon festival.
Life is full of so many things.
I hope we have eyes open enough to see them.