On God, Blind Faith, and Narrow Paths

It’s been no secret that, in the year since losing John, I’ve been going through somewhat of a profound spiritual experience.

Some people call it an “awakening,” but to me that term suggests that I’m “awake” while others are “asleep.”  And I think that comes across as pretty arrogant. So, for that reason, I prefer to say that I’m experiencing a “spiritual re-alignment.”

I do not think I was “asleep” in any sense of the word before John’s accident.  I think I was like many people who consider themselves atheist or agnostic.  I was fully invested in and engaged in my life.  And I was open to finding and experiencing what people referred to as “faith.”  I just never did.

Growing up, I had sat through sermons in church pews, temples, and gurudwaras waiting for some feeling or inclination that there was more to life than just what we saw around us.  It didn’t matter if I went to a youth group or yoga class, people sitting around and talking about God and universal connection sounded exactly like people just sitting around talking.  It was uninspiring at best.

Nothing ever moved me.  Nothing ever stuck.

So I relegated faith and belief to the same category as I did fairy tales: I felt that they were stories people told themselves to make the world less scary and lonely.

I eventually turned to a much more rational approach to the world…I turned to therapy and, eventually, to travel and this worked well for me.

I did really well in therapy because once I was presented with information that contradicted an existing belief or paradigm, I was open to adapting and changing the way I thought.  My therapists (and John) loved this about me, and through therapy, I honed my ability to experience, process, and adapt to new information.

Though I had therapy to help me process my experiences, I did not abandon religious or spiritual ideas all together.  But I also did not have a meaningful way to incorporate them into a life that already made sense on its own, so I used religion and spirituality in the same way we use filters on photos: as a way to artificially brighten or dim very real experiences.

That was the nature of my faith.

I’d had plenty of dark times in my life before, and “faith” never did anything for me.  It wasn’t like a flashlight that would turn on when times got dark, it was more a kaleidoscope.  A lens I could pick up and hold to my eye anytime I wanted to see the unreal and the abstract projected onto the real world.

And then I met John and found all the faith I ever needed in the form of another person, and I remember feeling blessed.  And I remember feeling happy.  I remember feeling good.

But then he died.

And everything started going dark.

And faith, the children’s toy that it had always been to me, I didn’t even bother reaching for it.  It was useless, and I knew it.

And the day John died I also knew something else…that if there was a God, he must have been silent my entire life for one reason:  because he does not waste his time on the wretched.  I knew that God must only speak to “the good.” People like John who had been lucky enough to be given real faith.

I knew that God must have thought it better for John to be dead than to be loving  someone like me. I knew that God must have killed John in order to “save” him.

If there was a God,  I didn’t hate him, but I knew he must have hated me.

And so I sat in the darkness of my life accepting that I was either truly alone, or detested by a God I didn’t know how to believe in.

And I imagine that’s when God, horrified by the highly dramatic conclusions I was coming to, decided to do what he does best…he decided to turn on a light.

And in the darkness I was in, it was all I saw.

It was a subtle light, like the flashing of an incoming call on a cellphone screen, but it was the only light I could see.  So I walked towards it and stumbled through what I now know were my first steps of blind faith.

I took the first steps of faith, not knowing where I was going or what I was doing. But every time I got to a light I could see that another one stretched out in front of me.  Some were as faint as an engine light on a car dashboard.  Others were haunting, like a T.V. that keeps turning itself on in a dark room.

The lights didn’t make sense.  They weren’t in a straight line, but…they were lights in the darkness, so I kept walking to them.

I was certain that every light I got to would be the last one I would see, but there was always another one.  And I had no idea who or what was turning them on.

Each step was a stumble through the darkness on a path that no one else but me could sense. And that was confusing, and terrifying, and so many times I was worried I’d succumbed to delusion because there was no way any of this could be real.

I struggled to come to terms with what was happening.

And as I struggled through the darkness, I struggled to understand how to even put into words what I was experiencing, so I decided to just use one word: God.  God apparently was happening to me.

Only my experience was so different when compared to anything I had ever associated with God before.

It was almost as if John’s death had broken me in such a way that, like a bent antenna, I could now pick up on a new frequency.  Some sort of “God Frequency.”

And in that darkness I found a new sense of sight, where I could sense order in events where I had only ever sensed chaos and disorder.  I could hear and sense so much more than I ever could before.  But in the darkness, I  still struggled to understand why I was being helped.  If God is real, why had he stayed so silent in my life? Why was he so silent in so many people’s lives? Why did he allow us to suffer?  Why?

I started to ask.  And I started to seek.  And I started to question.   And that’s when God asked me if I was ready for him to turn on more of the lights.

And I said, “yes.”

And so he did.

But these lights didn’t light up only the way forward, they illuminated the path behind me, so I looked.  I could see my past, and in it, I could see all the different times God had turned on a light that I simply couldn’t see because there were already so many other lights on.

I saw the highs of my life, and there was God, laughing with me.  I saw the mundane parts of my life, and there was God, gazing mindlessly off into space with me.  And I saw my lowest moments.  I saw the morning I found out that John was dead.  I saw myself in agony.  I saw myself clawing at my own skin.  And I saw God suffering with me.

In this new light, I saw God laughing, living, and suffering through me.

In this light I could see, stretching in front of me, a narrow path with a small gate…leading somewhere, and I understood for the first time why the path to God feels this isolating…it’s because my path is only for me.  No one else.

No one else will ever or has ever walked this exact path before, and no one else can walk it for me.   And it’s terrifying when you know walking the narrow path of your own faith makes you a lunatic to some and a heretic to others.

I guess this is why, “few are those who find it.”

But I’ve been walking it.  And I’ve been talking about it and trying to put this walk into words.  Telling people about the scenery I’ve encountered along the way.

And when this walk is too much, and I can’t get a feel for the next step, I stop.

And I turn my gaze upwards towards the skies John flew in, and I let myself feel lost and alone.  And I let myself cry because I want to be walking this path while holding his hand.

But then I keep walking down my narrow path. Some days I skip down it.  Some days I curse it.  But most days, I simply walk it led by faith and the knowing that love put me on it.

On this path, I have met the fearful.  Those who urge me to get on their path and abandon mine.  Those who use my experiences to validate their belief in a Heaven that will not have me and a Hell that will.   I have met people who, understandably, don’t believe I’m on a path because they don’t trust roads that don’t show up on a GPS.  And I have met people who, because of the heaviness of their own grief, have stopped walking altogether.

I have also met the faithful (of so many faiths), walking their own narrow paths.  Those who stop to minister to the pain of others by offering to be what John was to me: faith in human form.

I see everyone on their own different narrow path…and I also see God with all of them whether they see him there or not.  And he is turning on lights.  Hoping that our lives never get so dark that we are able to see them.

“God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved”
Psalm 46:5

 

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I Didn’t Want a Life That Would Make, “A Great Book”

I cannot stress enough how much writing has served me in the months since John died.  Writing has allowed me to illuminate the saturated murkiness of deep grief in a way that continues to surprise, and at times, exhaust me.

Even though the aftermath of loss is where people typically find themselves with, “no words,”  I, for some reason, have been able to find many.

And so I’ve written them.

I’ve written about the love me and John had and continue to have.  I’ve written about what it felt like to have met him and why it mattered so much. I’ve transcribed the events that led up to the night he died trying to get out of his plane during a routine landing.  And I’ve written at length about how my life has unfolded since.

Writing has served to cauterize the deepest and most gruesome parts of this experience, as well as to illuminate the  incomprehensible moments of re-connection that I’ve been blessed with since the accident.  My writing has connected me to so many others whose journeys run parallel to mine, and I believe it will find its way to people who need it down the line.

My writing has helped me, and so I’ve continued to write.

My writing has also led to many of my closest friends and family earnestly telling me the one thing that almost everyone who faces a tragedy hears at some point:  That one day, I should write a book about all this.

(Believe me when I say that I take this as a compliment).

People have urged me to write a book about the life I had before John.  My relationship with him.  And the healing I’ve undergone since his death.  Almost every widow I know has been urged to do this.

Some do.  Some don’t.  But all our stories, untold or not, really would make for great reading.

I, speaking for myself, find the task deliriously daunting.

Maybe at some point in my life, I will be able to pluck out a single thread in this Gordian Knot of an experience, but until then I think what I want to say most is this:  that my life… this life that would make a great book…I truly wish I did not have it.

I wish it so very much.

I wish my relationship with John didn’t have to be described as “epic.”

I wish I didn’t learn first hand how death can open people’s hearts, only for them to realize that it’s too late for it to do anyone much good.

I didn’t want a life where I watched one of the kindest humans anyone has ever known die.  And I didn’t want a life where I learned that I could survive that kind of pain.

I most definitely did not want a life where some people think I’ve lost my mind because I can see John’s love manifested in dreams and cell phone glitches and balloons.

I did not want to be a seeker. I did not want  wisdom.  I did not want to be an example of strength.  I did not want any part of this life. 

No one would.

I wanted what almost everyone else I know wants…the norm.  I wanted a benign life, yet I was given this one.  And I know people want to read about it because I probably would too.

I suppose the easiest thing to read about are the difficult lives people lead.

But I don’t want a book about me and John because between the romance, obstacles, tragedy (and eventual magic) that our relationship carried with it, I feel we were really more the “fairy tale” type.  I don’t think many people could disagree.

I want our stories to be told in times where immediate comfort is needed, even if that means our names will eventually get lost to time.

I want people to hear about us so they fight for and forgive those they are lucky enough to love in this life.

And I hope, at some point, the story of the time John sent me quarters makes its way to a grieving person who needs to hear it.  I want people to hear about “some pilot” who shows up in kids dreams because he really wants to talk about planes.  I want people to look at red balloons and think, for just a second, that maybe there is more to this life than what meets the eye.

I want nothing more than for these stories to be shared and told…so I will keep writing.  I want nothing more than for people to find hope and re-connection after they lose someone, so I will keep writing.  I feel like it is what I was meant to do, so I will just keep writing.

But I also wish with all my heart that I was the one hearing and reading these stories, not the one writing them.

I don’t want to be living through the difficulties that make for easy reading, no matter how great the book would be.

You wouldn’t either.

 

A Few Words For The Newly Widowed

My newly widowed friend,

I write to you knowing how hollow words sound right about now.

I know “this” feels impossible.   Whatever “this” is, does not feel survivable.

“This” feels like dying.

Contrary to what you may think, there are words for what you’re feeling, but they aren’t the right ones.  They don’t fit.  Language falls short of what “this” is.

You can try to put some sentences together, but don’t be surprised if they come out jagged.  Truncated.  Cut off at the knees.  Disfigured.

Best you stick to simple words.  Words like anguish.  Shattered.  Dissolved.  Faded.

I know it feels like your brain has been dropped in acid.  And the circuitry that once ran clearly is now smoldering.  I know the air you’re breathing feels clotted.   It doesn’t seem to carry sound.  Or warmth.  Or light.

I know that breathing feels like choking down glass.

And while your brain is dissolving into itself, people are asking you impossible questions.  Questions like: what do you want to eat?  Are you thirsty?  Would you like to put a movie on?  …Are you okay? 

The questions are horrifying.

And I know that if you could figure out how to make your brain tell your mouth to open and then tell your lungs to breathe in and then contract while your vocal chords squeezed together…if you could figure out how to make your brain do that, you would start screaming.  But you can’t.

So you sit there. And shrug.  And nod.

You sit on a couch.  Feral. And do what you’re going to be doing for a long time: you mimic a human.

People are coming to see you.  They talk at you.  You don’t understand how they can’t see that they’re talking to a husk.  

You’re pretty sure this is how animals live:

Stimulus. Response. Stimulus. Response. Stimulus. Response. Sleep. Pain. Repeat.

People tell you that you, “sound great.”  That you, “look better than expected.”  And the air carries the sound their mouths are making.  And your ears take the message to your brain. And your brain is maybe making your body do and say things which makes people think you’re, “doing well.”  But you can’t really be sure.  

But I know you’re starting to be sure of something…

You realize that the “spirit” is very real.  And very different than the body.

I never believed in the “soul” until John died.  But if you’re like me…you can now, somehow, feel your soul twisting inside you.  Violently.

You can feel it hurling itself wildly against the cage of your pathetic, useless body.  You sense your spirit retching inside of you.  Convulsing.  Squirming. Begging to be let out…to go…to be free.

You feel it clawing. And whimpering.  You sense it trying to break through your bones and carve its way out of your flesh so that it can just…go.  You want to help it by cracking the shell of your body open, just a little bit.  Maybe you can just dig your fingers into the skin above your collar bones and rip off a bit of the casing your soul is stuck under.

But you don’t.  Because your brain reminds you that humans don’t peel themselves.  And right now…you’re mimicking a human.

My newly widowed friend,  I know that you’re thinking all these things and you’re feeling these things, and that people are smiling at you and telling you that, “you’re being really strong.”  And that they believe it.

This dumbfounds you.

The fact that people think that they’re talking to the real you astounds you.  That people think the real you showed up to work…that the real you is smiling in pictures and telling  stories at the funeral and going grocery shopping.

My newly widowed friend, I know the real you hasn’t done any of those things.  I know the real you is stuck inside a body.   A body that spends its time looking up things like the average life expectancy of a human… and then subtracting its age from the number… and then crying at the double digit number of years it statistically has left.

My newly widowed friend, I know the idea of living makes you sick.

And I know you’re probably reading these words from the floor of wherever your body lives.  The floor of a bedroom or bathroom. The floor next to a bed you didn’t leave for  four days; a bed that now smells a little like damp socks.

My newly widowed friend, I often wondered why I spent so much time sitting on floors right after John died…and now I think it was my body’s attempt to keep my spirit as grounded as possible.  As close to the Earth’s density as it could.

We sit on floors.  And we mimic being human.  We make the sounds we’re supposed to.  Our faces do human things.  And we eat human food.  And we mimic.  This is what newly widowed people do.

I know you’re probably reading this while you’re hunched over.  You’re probably alone now, so you don’t have to mimic as hard.  You can sit crooked.  Misaligned.  Your breathing can go back to being labored.

It’s just you and me now.  So I want to say some human words to you that I know you will not believe because you have no reason to.

But hear me out anyways, please:

My newly widowed friend, please know that right now, mimicking a human is your only choice.  All you can do is mimic.  And breathe.  And feed your body.  And drink water.  All while your spirit hemorrhages inside you.

My newly widowed friend, please…sit on as many floors as you need to.

And say all the things people say you shouldn’t.  And be angry at people who don’t deserve it.  And let text messages go unanswered.  And watch as people use your person’s coffin as their own personal soap box or stage.  And let your spirit wail.

Please sit down as long as you need to, and mimic the human you used to be and keep breathing.  Breathe those breaths.

Breathe glass.  Breathe pain.  Breathe unfairness.  Fuck life.  Fuck people.  Fuck “this.”  Fuck the world. Stimulus. Response. Pain. Repeat. Mimic. Human. Mimic. Fake. Pain. Pain. Pain. This. Pain. Just. Keeps. Coming. Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe…

Just keep breathing until one day…you actually take the first real breath you’ve taken in a long long time.

And you’ll know it.

Because the air around you will thin out.

And you’ll feel the sun.  And music will make you want to sing along.  And you’ll realize you’re actually breathing.  And you’ll smile.

Those days will come, and when they do (and you may not like this part) I need you to take the deepest breath of your new life, because I’m going to need you to get up.  And start moving through your life.

And I need you to pick up your pain, and I need you to take an even deeper breath because I need you to start talking.  Because you’ve got so many stories to tell.

You have to tell us stories about your person.

The world needs to know who they were.

How did you meet?  Tell us about the time they made you so angry you almost left them.  What’d their laugh sound like?  Did they take forever in grocery stores?  

Who. Was. Your. Person?  

I need you to talk about them.  I need you to take the deepest breaths of your life and tell their stories.

I need you to stand up and walk out the door and go out into the world because there is joy waiting to find you.  Real joy.  Real smiles.  New memories that are clamoring to be made and people who need you in them.  You need to tell bad jokes.  You need to make people laugh.  You need to be a part of so many other people’s stories.

There are people who need your voice to be a part of the soundtrack of their life, so once you’re breathing… start talking.  And start feeling.  And start connecting.

But to do that, you have to keep breathing those painful breaths.  And it hurts.  And it isn’t fair.  And, my God, I know some people are so uninteresting, but, my God, others are sure worth meeting.  And you need to meet them.

And I know you don’t feel like “you” anymore, and you don’t feel like you’re bringing much to the world around you, so I need you to hear this one thing above all else:

The good their love did for you cannot be undone by their death.

The world needed them, you needed them, but then they died.  And it isn’t fair.

But, my widowed friend, we still have you, and you are what no one else on this entire planet is:  The only end result the world has of their love.  What did it mean to be truly, deeply, romantically loved by your person?  Only you can tell us.

The world needs love stories.  Stories about epic love.  Tragic love.  Steady love.  Love-you-then-hate-you love.  Love that was almost right.  Love that was always right.  The world needs stories.

So, my newly widowed friend who is sitting on the floor, reading this from a smart phone that has dozens of un-read messages on it that say, “let me know if you need to talk.” Please, when you’re ready, if ever that time comes: get up, take a deep breath, stop mimicking… and start talking.

And above all else, my friend, when you’re ready: struggle, fight, clamor, try…and try…and try…to live.