On the Coronaversary
I can’t stop thinking about this interview with Stephen Colbert from 2015 and the phrase that slipped through a crack in my then very broken heart and planted itself into my soul.
You gotta learn to love the bomb
"You gotta learn to love the bomb," he said. "Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that's why. Maybe, I don't know. That might be why you don't see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It's that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened." ...
I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkein in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkein's mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. "Tolkein says, in a letter back: 'What punishments of God are not gifts?" Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table, "'What punishments of God are not gifts?'" he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. "So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn't mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head."He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it "stopped me dead. I went, 'Oh I'm grateful. Oh I feel terrible.' I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true."
It's not the same thing as wanting it to have happened, he said. But you can't change everything about the world. You certainly can't change things that have already happened. It's our choice, whether to hate something in our lives or to love every moment of them, even the parts that bring us pain. At every moment we are volunteers.
Joe Gabriel and I refer to this so much, it's a wonder I haven't tattooed it on my forehead, and we lean hard into introspection around these parts so we've been having this conversation for a solid week. The way the internet is talking about Coronaversary kinda makes me want to climb into a hole (the internet doesn’t do nuance and Sweet Baby James is that my Homeland).
So many times over the past year, I have found myself reaching for a way to explain this complex but deep spiritual truth to my children. It’s not Bad Things Happen for a Reason. It’s not Looking On the Bright Side. It is the exact opposite of pretending everything is fine when it's not. It’s an acknowledgment that life is often random and usually chaotic but always involves pain we cannot escape. As Glennon Doyle says that doesn’t mean we are doing it wrong. That is life.
I didn’t lose 50lbs or write an album but this past pandemic year I dug deeper than I ever have — to walk with my kids in the midst of my own and their personal confusing darkness when I could not make the sun come out.
A year ago, thinking this would be short lived and not a life shaking event, I wrote that my goal for this time with my family was to be in it together. Not to do this at each other or next to or against each other but with each other.
It hasn’t been pretty.
It is painful to witness your children enduring a mental health crisis
It is shocking and awful to hold them as they ask over and over again, "But why did I have to be alive in *these* times?"
It is painful to be sick but have friends become sicker
It is painful to lose work and income and a sense of direction and inertia and self
It is a powerful and sacred thing to hold your child’s hand and walk and cry and stumble with them through the dark. It is a privilege to witness every uncomfortable thought and emotion and dig deep to find your best self (when she is in serious hiding) and not just talk, but do the real work of parenting and model some resilience, only to find they are figuring it out in ways you couldn't conceive until you were 30.
It is hopeful and soul sustaining to find other folks who are doing this difficult, serious, essential work. Thank you for letting me witness your difficult and painful and inspiring journey this year.
I have learned how to be truly present with people who are suffering and not even gesture towards fixing it. I am learning to let everyone be responsible for their own feelings and we have all learned how to apologize better and forgive more easily, how to endure the worst moments by pulling towards each other instead of away.
While this bomb exploded in different ways for all of us, and the fallout and rebuild will be just as unique, I'm with Colbert on this one.
"It's a gift to exist and with existence comes suffering. It's our choice, whether to hate something in our lives or to love every moment of them, even the parts that bring us pain."
To everyone living and loving in this nuanced land where the terrain is always rocky but the vistas are magnificent, I send all my love. I'm on the journey with you. Let's walk on. xo