Tonight I made corn salsa with cilantro and lime, heated raw tortillas and spread them with homemade salsa verde, and added savoury pronghorn with jalapenos and cheese. The flavours were fresh, alive on my tongue. Thus I shared a meal with a friend. Over tea, however, we shared tales and tears. My tears were flavoured with sorrow and fear—that fear of forgetting. Fear of trying so hard to be okay that I lose any semblance of who I am.
After two or three weeks of not entering fully, not encountering grief the way I had been, I put the kleenex box back on the windowsill. I wore colour—rather than black and grey—for the first time in over two months. And I felt like a traitor. Disloyal to my grief, and ultimately, disloyal to Aaron. Sometimes I fear that I am forgetting, and sometimes I fear that this bleeding wound will never heal. I simultaneously hope it never does and long for the blood to clot, the scar to form.
These are the scars
deep in your heart
This is the place you were born
This is the hole
where most of your soul
comes ripping out
From the places you've been torn
And it is always yours
But I am always yours
The shape of these words has become so familiar to my ears that they are often background noise at work. But when I stop to listen to them, they still make me ache. It is as if the scar forms from the inside out; deep in my heart the blood is either being staunched or it is left to pour out.
Though I have been living on the surface for much of the last few weeks, I wonder if it is because the grief is going deeper in and I don't want to follow it. I want to be distracted. I want to be shallow—it's easier, it doesn't hurt so much. Yet it isn't really healing—and it could end up hurting other people. But even more, it feels like forgetting. And forgetting tastes like fear rather than life.
I moved the kleenex box back to my bed from the windowsill. I'm not expecting a sudden influx of tears, but one never does expect the tears. They come when they want. . .and sometimes they dry up, even when you feel like you need or want to cry them.
Today I'm wondering what it looks like to move deeper into grief. My initial need to internalise and then verbalise is still latent, but there has been a shift. Now I feel like I'm focussed on myself, rather than on remembering everything I possibly can about Aaron. Partly because I can't live in the past, but partly because remembering hurts. Remembering reminds me of how wrapped up in myself I was—too wrapped up to see that my friend needed more than an ordinary amount of help; to see that he was reaching out to me specifically in those first few years.
My understanding of 'normal' friendship was formed from my Semester friends. They set the bar severely high for everyone else. When we all began to be beacons of beauty, truth, and goodness in our own locales, it was hard to continue investing such devoted time to long-distance friends. Yet many of us did so for years. I felt the loss keenly when school, work, marriage, or children diminished the time we had once devoted to one another. I know the changes and the growth in our own communities and families had to happen—that is healthy and good. But the 'creeping separateness' deserved to be grieved.
With Aaron, the separation was gradual at first, then terribly abrupt near the end of his time in the Air Force. Maybe I blame the AF more than I should, but they did not help my friend while he was in their care. Though, to their credit, they did serve him well after his discharge. There is also regret when I think too much about Aaron's AF years. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what. I have no idea what I really could have done, but I still wish I had done something.
Then there is the regret when I think about the five-ish years between the time I last saw Aaron and when he ended his life. I wish I had visited him when I could have—before I ever moved to Colorado. I wish I had called sometime in those last five years, even when I wasn't sure if he would talk to me. Maybe he wouldn't have, but I wish I had tried to show him how much he mattered. And perhaps more than anything, I wish I had said 'Thank you' when I realised how much Aaron had quietly given me. I had the window of about one year when I had that chance...and I didn't take it.
When I remember, the pain comes spilling over in salty brine. And it is good to care, but it hurts.
If it doesn't break your heart, it isn't love
Now if it doesn't break your heart it's not enough
It's when you're breaking down with your insides coming out
It's when you find out what your heart is made up of
Maybe I'm tired of my insides coming out, of my soul dripping out of the places I've been torn. But I pray for the Spirit to stand me on my feet, to help me to step into the ache. Because the distractions I've chased make me less human. I begin to be inhumane toward others. . .or I fear reaching out to others, because to reach out means to care. To care means to give another person the power to hurt me; because they, too, will go away and leave me with another rend in my heart. I don't have enough blood to sustain the loss over and over.
But I will go recklessly on, loving and being loved. Because what if I didn't? What value would there be to life? God made us to be loved and to learn to love. It isn't the love that hurts, it is the deep, intolerable scar of the Fall that makes love painful, because now there is loss. Now there is total separation in some cases. Recently it has come to me what a brilliant image Lewis paints of the Fall with Ransom's bleeding heel in That Hideous Strength. He is wounded with an interminable (on this planet) injury which bleeds slowly and continuously—like the Fall pierces us with the interminable injury of sin, a wound that cannot be staunched this side of full redemption.
Sometimes, in an effort to get out of myself, I try to give to too many people. I try to love from my own flesh, my own 'strength'—every time I have tried this (innumerable times), I fail and relationships detonate. Rather, I am learning to love others in and from my weakness, because in my weakness I see that I can only do anything through the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Just because someone wants or even needs a friend, doesn't mean I have to be, or should be, that friend for them.
With Aaron, I tried to be a loyal friend, and I should have. We had a solid groundwork of life-together friendship. Right now I find I need to be a loyal friend to those with whom I have a friendship groundwork already laid. In this season, to reach out (beyond common courtesy) to new friends is leaving me mentally on the surface when I need to dig deep. . .deep into the Word; deep into the things I have been learning; deep into my wounded heart. Not to enlarge the hole, but to follow it down to where the scar is beginning to form. . .deep in my heart.
— "Always" by Jon Foreman
— "Yet" by Jon Foreman and Tim Foreman
Photo: "Farewell, Goodbye" Wolf Creek Pass Overlook, Colorado (2007)