The Price of Finding Depth

Today is my seventh session of counseling. It has been three months since my cousin shot himself on Christmas Day. He would have been my age—twenty—in sixteen days.

I’ve grown comfortable in this room, in this red plush chair—enough so that I don’t always have to cross my legs or clutch my own hands in my lap. When I don’t stare at the counselor in the same rocking chair across from me, which is most of the time, I stare at the full bookshelf to his left, the books with spines listing every disorder and mental ailment imaginable, the window next to me that looks out of the reverent, red-brick Nazareth Hall, my view framing a corner of Lake Johanna, the cold and gnarled oaks twisting across gray water.

We always meet on Friday’s, during what the college calls “praise chapels.” It’s a weekly event most students flock to, leaving the century-old campus quiet and deserted.

The first praise chapel I went to after Christmas, I stood and listened while a peppy worship leader belted out a Hillsong ballad about “victory over death,” the whole auditorium on their feet and clapping. I fell into my seat after about five minutes and wept, my hair like a curtain, my face in salt-soaked hands the rest of the hour. I haven’t been to a praise chapel since.

My counselor and I don’t always talk about him—sometimes we talk about poetry and art, or we discuss blogs and books we’ve read. But he always comes up. I try not to be surprised by the fact that I always have more to say.

I tell my counselor the question that I asked my roommate last night while she was sprawled on the thinly-carpeted dorm-room floor doing theology homework, clacking on laptop keys, the white Macintosh apple glowing in my direction.

Are you satisfied with your life?

She did not hesitate when she said yes. When she asked me the same, I responded that I don’t know whether I’ve ever been truly satisfied by anything. That I am always seeking, always trying, always groping for something more. And it’s exhausting.

My counselor looks at me quiet with focused eyes, waits while I feel my face wrinkling up in frustration, my palms sweating in this blanketing room that smells of the red hard candies on the desk. All my life, I tell him, I’ve always seen the worst fate possible as feeling and experiencing life shallowly. But what I’ve forgotten until now is that the deepest depths of the ocean are the darkest and loneliest places on earth.

It is saying these words aloud that makes me crush a plush Kleenex against my eyes, stop while I try to control my voice and breath. My counselor tells me I feel isolated from people because I feel and experience things in ways that most twenty-something college students do not. He says I am “burdened by insight.” His statement flattering and lonely all at the same time.

When I walk outside, it is April and it is empty and it is snowing—light, gentle flakes, not so much falling but rather chasing themselves around my head and the mass of steely sky. I walk through a world in slow motion. The air is fresh and spills down my throat like ice water, settling somewhere deep inside of me, cleansing me. I can smell the water stirring in the lake behind me, the weather-worn dirt that is finally exposed. I tip back my head, stop on the walk overlooking the campus courtyard, stand utterly still.

Later today I will have classes, and I will read books, and I will think thoughts about all kinds of things different people want in my brain. But in this moment, my thoughts are mine and God’s. I am my own. I am being laced in white, and I am healing in the only way I know how.

After the Fact

On the aisle side of a middle pew, feeling small inside a breathtaking, originally Catholic church building, I am sitting with a open journal on my lap, not paying as much attention to the sermon as I should be. All around me, dark wooden beams scale white walls, curving into high domed ceilings, light suspended in lanterns, fixed on metal chains leading upward.

Chopin rings from the classical piano being played in the front of the church. Near the piano an original painting, a 7ft. canvas framed with the color of canyon red dirt, holding a depiction of the woman Jesus met at the well. She is crouching, low on her heels, back bent, her hair the same color as the dirt. But her arm is reaching upward. A delicate hand holding her clay jug like an offering, tilting it back until water rushes forward, nearly spilling over, ready to wash over this lowly figure in the dust.

~

The last month and a half since my cousin’s suicide have been some of the toughest weeks of my life. At this point in time, I can feel some of the heaviness, the pressure of it ease off me in ways that I couldn’t afford before. But there are also days, more like moments, when something just hits for no remarkable or explainable reason and all of a sudden I’m crying in class, at lunch, in the middle of my professor’s office.

And after these last few weeks of tears and writing and phone calls and prayers and frustrating, emotional conversations, this is what I’ve learned about grief. And that is that there is absolutely nothing that can quiet the pain and the sadness, and there is nothing to make it go away. There is no remedy, there is no treatment, there is no cure.

But there is healing.

The only, only thing that can heal what so thoroughly breaks us is the knowledge, the realization that we are not alone.

When the same professor that I break down into tears in front of takes the time nearly every day to ask how I’m actually doing, I am not alone.

When the school councilor I’ve been seeing goes out of his way on a Saturday to email me a blog post he found about grief, I am not alone.

When I read poetry, when I read others’ intimate experiences, when I can feel what I don’t have to sum up into coherent sentences, I am not alone.

When a dear friend takes me out to dinner at India Palace, and over curry chicken listens to everything I could possible say, willingly enters into my story without fear or hesitation, holds every jagged, broken piece of me, I am not alone.

And when I am sitting in church this morning, and the light is igniting the stained glass ivory and gold, producing warmth I can’t feel, I read among the azure and the ruby laced window, a scroll inscribed with Blessed are the poor in spirit.

When the people stand and pour out Aleluia, I actually have the breath to join them. And with those words, my skin feels lighter and less like my own, and again, I am crying, but I try not to get caught up in mopping them with my sleeve. When I just let them leak out of closed eyes, let them wash away all that I’ve been holding on to, let this warmth, this light, this voice wrap around me, there is healing.

There is the realization, the reminder. I am not alone.