The title doesn’t feel right anymore. One thing I have noticed about grief is that some things just don’t feel right anymore; sometimes it’s because they seem too normal, and how can anything be normal, and sometimes it seems like they just no longer fit or apply or are needed now. I experience this as a kind of reset–like when you stop eating everything but veggies and brown rice, and then gradually add foods back, paying refreshed and tender attention to how each one makes you feel. I don’t have a new title yet, but one will come.
I’m ready again to tell you about things I’ve encountered that you might want to go encounter too, but the container is different, and involves not just nonspecific help, but something metabolic/transcendent/alchemical/”shit into fertilizer”-like, which I’ve learned is called grace. Grace has been named again and again these last weeks–showing up in my dreams, in conversations, and, astonishingly, a whole lot and very explicitly during the week I just spent with 112 people I work with (see Note 1).
Most grace I experience comes via conversation with others or with myself, but there have been cultural products in the past weeks that have mattered to me, too. I’ve been careful with what I take in, and have observed that I am not interested for the most part in books/movies/TV as an escape from my feelings (for that: sugar). I have been very drawn to a few things, though, things that make me weep and laugh and feel like my whole self, and that help me do some little bit of healing as I take them in.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. I came late as hell to this, and, wonderfully, that meant that I could watch ten in a row if I wanted to. Though it is a deeply topical show, meaning that it’s super tied to the week of release, I got as much from watching the 2015 shows as I did from the 2016 ones. If you don’t have access to HBO, you can watch a whole lot of it via its YouTube channel. John Oliver has been such a healing presence for me that I am also listening to back episodes of The Bugle, the podcast he co-hosts with Andy Zaltzman.
Beyoncé’s Lemonade. You can buy the albums–the song album, and the visual album–on Tidal or iTunes. The visual album is one hour. If all you have heard is “oh, something about Jay-Z cheating or something?” it’s important to note that the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown are in it, that a recording of Malcolm X is in it, that the whole thing is an alchemy of grief into beauty.
Larry Wilmore’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner set. My god. Come for the actual hilarious jokes, but stay for shot after shot of uncomfortable white people in evening wear. It’s delicious.
The Smell of Rain on Dust. This is a book about the connection between grief and praise, and our need to do both, and it’s not really aimed at people directly in grief, it’s just aimed at people. There are some very beautiful parts, and there are also some semi-preachy parts. Those haven’t bothered me because I feel solid and strong about the process I’m in and how I’m in it, so the good parts are worth the others. I think of this one every day: “Grief, even for an individual’s loss, is a thing for which a lot of people are necessary…even if it’s just to be a kind of resilient nonjudgmental human basket, against which the griever is able to thrash.”
Also, it has come to my attention that there are people on this earth who still have not seen the Harriet Tubman “Drunk History” featuring Octavia Spencer and narrated by Crissle West. On the occasion of having only 13 years more to wait for her on the $20, give yourself this gift.
1: This week was a lot. I learned a lot from being around so many people while I am very consciously a turtle with no shell (and no wish yet for a shell). Small interactions were bigger; big interactions (i.e., speaking in front of all 112 people) were smaller. Being in the middle of terrible shit that only some people knew about was illuminating; it helped me notice that some people just treat everyone as though they might well be in the midst of terrible shit, and that these people are grace incarnate. There were others present who were in the midst of their own terrible shit that I knew about; over the course of the week, I learned again and again about still others in the midst of terrible shit I never got nor needed the details of. So many adages capture the ways of being that follow from this: “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”; Anne Lamott’s report of her pastor Veronica: “She said the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward, and that we, who are more or less OK for now, need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes.” Amen to all that, and I’m grateful to have a personal version now, which doesn’t need words: I just picture a basket.