I’ve been thinking a lot about loss lately, for a few reasons – it is the season between the day my mom died and her birthday – about a month and a half apart - in which I am perpetually confused about if I should be grieving, remembering, or celebrating her life – or some combination of the three. And then I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s amazing new book Flight Behavior. This was a book about so many things, but one of the themes that really stuck with me was loss – loss of habitat, of species, of naiveté, of innocence, of comfort, of kin, of home. And it’s also Lent. Which is a season of remembering – what we’ve lost, what we are yet to become, who we really are.
In Flight Behavior, the main character, a mom of two kids, makes her young son repeat after her, “It won’t ever go back how it was.” And doesn’t that just sum up loss? No matter what happens, I won’t ever live again in a world where my mom is here physically with me, where she can give me a hug or I can call her for advice. And this child’s life will radically change (his mother had just told him some big news, which I won’t share here – no spoilers! Read the book!). And what I have experienced, and seen happen to others, is that in these situations we typically rush to try to make it better: “It’ll be Ok.” “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.” “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” “She’s in a better place.” “She’s not in pain anymore.” These are some of my (least) favorites that have been said to me and to others.
This is why the character in Flight Behavior is so incredible. Instead of trying to make it “better”, she just tells the truth. In another part of the book, when she is gazing on the butterflies that have inhabited the land near her home – due to climate change – she says, “The hardest work of all was to resist taking comfort.” What she means, I think, is that although something may be beautiful – or appealing – that we would be better off to walk through the wilderness of the truth. That the butterflies are there because their normal habitat was destroyed due to climate change. That they may or may not survive. That the only way out is through. That we must struggle, and grieve, and be angry, and act, in order to grow into the person we are yet to become and are meant to be.
It’s incredibly hard work, this seeing the world with clear eyes and the grieving that inevitably comes, but I think it’s also where we (collectively) find our strength. It’s where we learn who we really are. Hard work can also be gratifying. It’s where we figure out what “home” is. If home is not a place, or a person (these things change or leave us) – what can we find inside ourselves or in our community or family that is our definition of home? How can we build a world where we all feel at home, where there are more of these spaces or moments – physical, emotional, spiritual - where we CAN see clearly, grieve, yell, and scheme together?