Part I: Survivor’s Guilt
I’ve wanted to start a series on healing for several weeks now. But every time I get plans underway it seems something new crops up that needs healing . . . like discovering how many files are really unrecoverable from my defunct hard drive, or seeing our drowned garden, or finding myself living in a city experiencing its worst devastation since the Civil War.
These losses are not small things. And they follow on the heels of other not-so-small-things, which I don’t want to rehearse just at this moment. (Even though I think recounting the narrative of loss is in itself healing, that is not the step I most want or need to take here in this space.)
So what I’m trying to say in part is this: my attempts at focusing on healing haven’t been very fruitful so far either in practice or in writing. Today, however, I may have found just a bit of low-hanging fruit . . . . by throwing myself into the Nashville recovery effort. I’m not going to analyze too much here. I just want to tell you what I did today, things that felt fruitful, consoling and healing.
The day began with a few important moments of care for own body and soul. I slept in later than usual and after meditation and some breakfast I made it to the gym for the first time in a week. When I got home I finished some food prep which had begun last night. I wasn’t able to make it to some of our neighbors who were working in areas clogged by traffic and blocked by the police. However, I was able to deliver lunch to a few others working in another part of town. Then I spent the afternoon helping sort through the minutia of the flood’s aftermath. This was also an opportunity just to be with friends for a short while in their loss and to listen and talk. Then I spent some time in a coin laundry removing flood-mud from an enormous load of towels. Just sitting there was a chance to write in my journal. When I finally arrived home, supper was underway and we decided on the spur of the moment to invite the neighbors to eat with us. We spent the evening eating, talking, watching the children play and stoking a fire in the pit.
This day was about more than resolving my guilt. God knows (really) that during this past week I’ve felt myself at every stage of grief and survivor’s guilt. No matter how I’ve floundered or stumbled, I haven’t been able to escape the sense that my own losses weren’t serious in light of all the losses everyone else was experiencing. Giving myself a break on this point was a good move. Allowing myself to focus on something besides what I wasn’t getting done, was important. Looking at the needs of others in this case was not only helpful in some tiny way to them, it was also therapeutic (healing) for me.
The day was also about more than self care. I feel worried sometimes in pastoral care circles when “self-care” is so highly tauted, that it seems to be self obsession rather than genuine, gentle care. I’m more interested in practices that sustain self and others, like worship, sabbath and discernment. But in situations of crisis an actual focus on care of the self is important. Today I felt the fruit of that attention.
The day was about building and sustaining community. Talking with friends, sharing food, sorting through loss in the most literal sense, doing laundry, writing, working muscles, pushing children on the swing set, stoking a fire. These matter and are in fact essential for healing after loss, crisis and the disorientations that come with those losses. As I continue to discern each day what is healing, I will try to remember the fruit of this day.