After 4 or 5 hours of struggle I abandoned my Memorial Day blog post. In the end the topic was too big and the space too small for my capacities. I was going for a unifying statement, one that tapped into the grieving over painful losses and the yearning for positive connection. But the words wouldn’t come together. Tapping into the grieving was easy enough and could well have filled several weeks of blog posts. It was the unifying part that eluded me. It seems that people in the United States are profoundly disunited – even in our grieving. Our yearnings, too, are disparate and more a reflection of our wants than our needs.
I expect some of the diversity of our grieving and yearning is related to our different perceptions. Here, in New York, the sirens may have slowed down but the ravages of COVID-19 are immanent and heartrending. Everyone I know knows someone who has been affected by COVID-19 and the tension and anxiety stemming from that is palpable. One of our sons, though, recently relocated to Kansas City for work. The coronavirus infection has been much less visible there. No one he knows and no one he has had contact with in Missouri knows anyone personally who has had the disease, making the restrictions seem puzzling and unreal to them. Not so much for him, since he hears the stories from New York friends and family, but it’s hard not to feel unsettled by precautions when you live in an area that has not yet been affected. It’s also hard not to be unsettled by cavalier attitudes and unprotected social gatherings when our memories of catastrophe are so raw.
When people’s experiences are so diverse how does one craft a unifying statement?
A question remains, have words failed me or have I failed words? Writing is tortuous for me. I spend a lot of time with my thoughts and have many ideas that I privately think are worthwhile and even brilliant – so long as I keep them to myself. Within the container of my mind I don’t have to worry about how my thoughts sound or how well my thoughts stack up against the thoughts of others. I can manage my own criticisms so they don’t become too wounding. But that protective shell can be brittle and, once broken, a source of pain and frustration. That same protective shell cuts me off from others and prevents new ideas from coming into my mind and taking hold allowing my thoughts to fester and get stale.
So, how to reach into my mind and also reach out with my mind? My image this week is of a loaf of bread. You can picture the bread I’m thinking of – a light brown crust, unsliced, heavy in the hand, whole, unbroken and fragrant with just-baked aromas. A loaf like that is a treasure to hold but a fresh baked loaf cries out to be broken, shared, and consumed. Once you break the loaf, tearing off pieces can be tough work but there is a reward when you pop a piece in your mouth and chew, a reward when your treasure is appreciated by those with whom you share. Breaking bread together is an activity that has been relished for centuries and has been a way to connect with each other in a nurturing way. We break, we share, we appreciate – it’s a warm and inviting image, isn’t it?
Once you break the bread the freshness clock starts ticking, too. There’s no turning back, no un-breaking the bread. You’ll need to consume it or store it. Once it’s all gone, you’ll need and want more – perhaps you’ll get into baking. Perhaps you’ll befriend others who have access to loaves and are willing to share.
Our ideas and expressions can have many of the same characteristics. We can keep them for ourselves or we can share them – each has its rewards and risks – but they are a precious resource that begs for our attentions, a resource that we would do well to cultivate and cherish.
Wishing you well as you navigate the week ahead!
Please note, this post originally appeared at aeu.org.