Thursday, July 14, 2016

An Anchor in the Storm

I remember going to the grocery store after my dad died. I was pushing the metal shopping cart from one aisle to the next, but I wasn't really seeing anything. The world was foggy.

As I pushed my cart from aisle 6 to aisle 7 to aisle 8, I eventually ran into someone, rammed my cart smack into their back. The person cried out, and I jumped back, startled. I was so in my own head, in my state of sadness and grief, that the other shopper's reaction came as a surprise.

For a moment, the fog cleared. I looked up and realized where I was. A grocery store. I needed milk, and eggs, and butter. Even when my dad had just died of a massive heart attack.

How do we process grief in the midst of the mundane? How does the shocking exist among the ordinary?

The past three weeks we have been inundated with emotion and horror. Innocent people have been slaughtered. I feel numb, really. I heard the news of 70-something more people killed in Nice, France, and I turned the channel, switching to an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.

I can't bring myself to watch any more. I can't continue to see death. I can't watch news where ambulance lights are flashing and angry politicians are accusing one another, asking, "Who is to blame? What should we do?"

I just can't.

It is so big. It is so stunning. It is so reprehensible. It is so beyond my comprehension, that I find myself shutting down.

How do we comprehend such acts of evil? How do we process this grief?

For tonight, I brushed my teeth. I put on a clean nightgown and sat directly in front of the fan (after all, it is Florida in July). Next, I will go to sleep. And after I sleep, I will get out of bed and drink coffee from my heavy stoneware mug. And I will face another day in this crazy, rampaging world.

One thing I've realized. In the midst of the crazy, we need the ordinary. It anchors us.

I read about a technique for surviving panic attacks. Psychologists call it grounding. When panic sets in, you are supposed to start to name things. First, you name five things you can see. The bedroom lamp. A straw sombrero. My bottle of hairspray. Then, you name five things you can feel. The keys of this laptop. The pillow at my back. You name five things you can smell and hear and so on and so on. With each thing you name, out loud, you force yourself out of your head, out of the madness, and into the present. You anchor yourself in the here and now.

For me, lately, especially the past three weeks, the grounding is in the ordinary acts of life. I don't think we can survive this horrible stuff without them.I baked muffins. I went for a walk. I planted orchid seeds, and tried to remember to water them. I trimmed my dog's unruly fur. I scoured the kitchen counter.

And it helps. It helps to turn off the television. It helps not to overanalyze. For me, it helps to pray, to anchor myself in my faith. I am grounded by reading the words of Scripture and knowing that this seemingly new level of horror is not beyond the scope of God's control.

This grounding is enough for tonight . . . and this anchor will hold tomorrow.

Deep breaths, my friends. Peace to you and yours. May this verse, which I memorized as a little girl, be a comfort to you tonight.

"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee:
because he trusteth in thee." (Isaiah 26:3)

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