Smoke has been hanging over Vancouver for the past week. Wildfire haze. The first day, it looked like the sky was on fire, orange and brown, with a bright red, unnatural looking sun piercing through. Almost 200 fires have been burning throughout BC.
The worst of the smoke has cleared. But the haze is still here, lingering. The mood has shifted from bright hot summer to something like a pause. It’s not the easiest to sunbathe under a layer of smoke or go for a long run. It is easy, when things get a little weird, to want them to go back to normal, to look away from the fire. Clean it up. Move on.
I told someone the other day that I’d stayed in on Sunday to do a major clean after my recent move, finally taking a go at the boxes in the spare room. The smoke was pouring in all day and eventually I had to close all of the windows and face the heat. They asked me how I felt after spending a whole day inside. “When it’s ‘cloudy’ like that, it can affect a person’s mood.”
That comment stuck with me, as the smoke lingered and the atmosphere turned from fascination to “Come on, already.” Impatience crept in and then agitation. I didn’t want to “be” with the smoke anymore.
But of course, it wasn’t the smoke. It was what the smoke stood for. Loss. Uncertainty. Control. When something dies, there is a cooling period. The ash collects. We can’t yet see the outline of what’s next.
Things are always dying and being born. It naturally co-exists. A baby’s shriek is closely followed by a laugh. As adults, we tend to judge the contrast, embracing the good and pushing away the bad. We rush through the cooling period, the smoky uncertain part, in order to get to the next something warm.
A marriage dies and, rather than being with the loss, we fill the gap with distractions. A job is lost and we throw ourselves into the search for the next. Boredom creeps in and, rather than getting curious about what’s hiding out there, we pick up our smartphones.
We’ve created a world where it’s so easy to do and much harder to just be. Just be scared. Just be lost. Just be sad. Just be uncertain. Just be.
Grief has been one of the most beautiful teachers of my life. In the early days of my divorce, I tried to “do” grief. If I allowed myself to cry this many times, then surely by x amount of months, I would be done. Poof: sadness gone, grieving done.
You can imagine how that went down. But what I want you to imagine now is how absolutely different life became when I started allowing myself to feel whatever I felt whenever I felt it. I stopped trying to fix myself. I took care of myself. I got gentle.
Instead of tracking my runs on apps and lifting crazy weights, I started listening to beautiful playlists that allowed me to feel. Some days I ran fast and furious through the rain and others I made it one kilometer before I stopped and turned around.
I lay in bed. I got still. I got angry. I waited. I breathed. I sobbed while doing simple things like cleaning my shower. I stayed in the soap and cried.
One by one, all of those voices that used to yell things like, “Get on with it already, cheer up, move faster,” turned into voices of love. “Of course this hurts. Of course. Just let it hurt.”
We are all grieving something. Some old loss or wound, some version of ourself or thing that didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to. It shows up, like the thick hazy smoke after a fire.
When we rush past it, we head blindly into the next blaze. We miss the grace that is born of grief.
The forest is gone. Burned to the ground. New shoots are coming. New love. New adventures.
But first, the smoke.