How do we live fully so we are fully ready to die?

I read these words yesterday, from a book given to me for my birthday from Carl’s sister, Christine. We were sitting on the bleachers of an indoor pool watching her kids swim when she gave it to me. For an entire hour, we were suspended. Held in an 80 degree tropical paradise. The white noise of splashing kids, an industrial air system and a whole pool full of water sounds. I wished I could bring a thick pile of blankets and pillows and books and stay there forever. I would have liked to make my new home in the far corner of the upper-most bleacher. But eventually we were spit back out into the cold winter night. It was a nice reprieve while it lasted. And anyway, now I had this new book to carry back into the world with me. It looked good. It held promise. It’s title? One Thousand Gifts (by Ann Voskamp). The cover has an image of a woman’s hands cradling a nest with two pale blue eggs held in its center.

Yesterday. Yesterday was a soft, but privately dangerous place. Dangerous only because I felt no desire. For anything. I ate a few chips. I repeatedly crawled into bed. I stayed in my pajamas all day. When I finally took a bath and got dressed at 8pm, I ran an errand and then went back to bed in my clothes. Ok, fine. Some days are going to be like this. But something inside of me knows that this can’t go on forever. It’s a comfortable place almost safe from panic, but creating its own form of anxiety, the kind that grows until it’s capable of locking its jaws around you. It’s a place where, if you stay there too long, things begin to die. This is, of course, the exquisite danger. It is a pallid place.

But inside this dangerous landscape I found something good. It’s a barren place stripped of all pretense, false ambitions and external expectations. Nothing matters and I realize that there is a tremendous amount of freedom in that. Since Carl died, there is only me, the shell of me. In all this nakedness, I am stripped even more bare. There is only one thing and that is the ground beneath my feet (if even that). There is also the great expanse of my future. Everything needs to be rebuilt. I have nothing. This can look any way I want it to. But first I need to be willing to build. It’s up to me to decide if I want to live fully or just empty.

Living empty is easier. Or maybe it’s just the best place to start. From this empty place, I am crying myself clean.

I can do this, right? I can pick myself up and move on. But first I need to extricate myself from this sticky web of grief. Herein lies the conundrum. At least for now. And in this now, it seems I am only capable of one thing…and that is surrendering myself to this quiet mapmaking. I’m impatient to get control over my life again. It’s impossible. I have bills to pay and animals to feed. I get scared. I don’t know how to tell this story. It’s too intricate. It’s too simple. It’s too beautiful. It’s too pathetic. For now, I’m caught in an actionless Neverland, a middle-of-nowhere. The only way out is to give myself what I need. This requires exorbitant amounts of faith (sometimes more than I have). It requires, more than anything, that I keep one finger, or even one strand of hair, on the pulse of hope.

Over and over and over my mind finds its way to the incredible plans that Carl and I had together. I can feel something inside of me, something that was inscribed onto my spirit before I even entered this world. It tugs on me even when I want to be left alone under the covers. It’s been running the course of my whole life and holds the same story that led Carl and I together. It is made of steep mountains and risks. It is bigger than either one of us. It always was. And we both knew it.

I want to run towards it and away from it, all in one breath.

I play with the threads of this pull. I unravel and braid and weave entirely half-crocked scenarios of outcomes and possibilities. It’s pointless and good. It’s like the weather. There’s a lot less control over it than we attempted to believe. We wove a sail, little more. We pointed our boat in the direction we hoped to go, but the rest, all along, was up to the wind.

As I write, I begin feeling like I’m talking gibberish. It’s all gibberish until I bump up against something real. And what’s real, anyway? My love for Carl is real. This unseen phenomenon that I feel pulled towards, that is real.

Last summer, Carl and I went on a trip to the farthest reaches of northern Minnesota. We took back roads all the way there and back and everywhere in between. We reveled in being such good traveling companions, both favoring the roads less traveled. We sometimes drove slow to make it last longer. He looked out his window looking for blueberries. I looked out my window looking for strawberries. It was a hot dusty day, windows down. We laughed when we realized what the other was doing. We had driven far off the main roads onto dirt roads that led us off the map and, from there, we bumped and scraped our way down unused and overgrown logging trails. We loved it. There was a sense between both of us that this is what our whole gorgeous life would look like…this open-hearted willingness to explore, fearlessly, together.

And so we are. Even after death, so we are.

I have work to do, but I’m still map-making. I write my way to acceptance of this. And I know my clients will understand because I’ve attracted them into my life for a reason. I cry with gratitude for their presence and their understanding. As I write this, I take a deeper breath than I have since visiting the pool.

Again, I ask myself, “How do we live fully so we are fully ready to die?”

And I realize that I’ve been doing it all along. I lean into a dream that I had yesterday. It was early evening when, after being struck by the gravity of that question, I felt a sudden need for sleep. In the dream, I was talking with God and Carl. Their voices were soft, optimistic, calmly eager, gently smiling, as if making great plans while trying not to wake the baby. I don’t remember what they said to me, but it was good, comforting. I was a hundred percent in on it. It was, very definitely, the best dream I’ve ever had.

I took this photo during that summertime adventure with Carl. But now I’m realizing that was only the beginning. We’ve already traveled far, far, far off the map and, in my heart, I know I need to rest up for whatever is ahead. I need to heal because this is going to be a very incredible journey. It’s a journey that started a long time ago. For now, I just need this resting spot. Just for a moment. Let there be this peace. Let there be this sense of believing. Please God, let my energy return.

I love you, Carl. You…who is always with me, always watching out for me, always ready for the next adventure.

{originally published Dec 20, 2014}

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