I will not soon be forgetting this movie—not so much because of the profundity of the movie but because of the circumstances surrounding it. Two of my youngest grandchildren engineered the perfect Sunday afternoon to celebrate my birthday week. I was to be picked up, reminded to have my mask along, and taken to the theatre with seats that recline. The parents were doing the driving and getting our tickets. Our only decision would be picking out the snacks.
They chose Airheads, the most delectable tangy chewy things. I introduced them to one of my “forbidden foods”—Dibs, individual little ice cream bites, perfect for sharing. We had two big bottles of water and paper cups to pour it into. The previews were fun, including clips from “Encanto,” the long awaited animated film coming out on Thanksgiving. In short, it was all divine, really, a joy out of this world with all its problems and fighting, variants of Covid, messed up supply lines, and Black Friday, etc.
The older grandson accepted the praise for having chosen the film, and the younger grandson explained to me that it was about people “accepting things that are different.” Clifford was different—a really humongous dog that only a few people could understand and love despite all the commotion he caused because of his size.
The difference to those who loved him was incidental. So, actually, despite all the laughing, the movie had a profound message.
Many of the most profound truths and secrets to happiness aren’t really that complicated. As the Zen masters discovered, it all begins with being present in the moment, open to whatever that moment offers, and embracing it with gratitude.
The first holiday milestone has come and gone with Thanksgiving observed with family and friends or maybe strangers or maybe even alone. How did you do? Did you make en effort to reach out and invite, not because it was expected of you, but because you wanted to? Did you take time to savor the quiet moments? Were you able to overlook annoyances for the most part and breathe through any uncomfortable moments? Did you feel that you were enough, whether you received any affirmations or not? Did you feel stirrings of gratitude even though things might be far from where you had hoped they would be?
Holidays can be uplifting and joyful, and they can also tug at our heartstrings for absences we especially feel at this season of gathering, including the absence of our authentic selves. The ultimate test of how we navigate holidays is how comfortable and accepting we feel toward our own selves.
So much of mental and emotional wellness rests on learning to be comfortable with ourselves. The comfort is the result of listening to our own needs and honoring them. For some of us, the comfort of being at home with ourselves follows not trying so hard to please everybody else while abandoning self care. For some of us, comfort being with ourselves follows accepting and forgiving our shortcomings without feeling we must justify or explain them. For some of us, comfort with ourselves follows keeping our word and knowing that whatever the outcome, we have done the best we knew then and now know how to do.
Holidays give us a moment of pause to ask ourselves how we are doing.
Grief is a response to loss, any kind of loss. Grief is an unmasking of the heart that strips away illusions about life and leaves us with a sense of our vulnerability. This is true not only for individuals but for families, communities, and our country.
During the past couple of years few could escape the experience of grief: The loss of lives in the pandemic, the loss of a familiar way of doing things, loss of jobs, and even a feeling of loss of purpose for those who found themselves more isolated than ever before. Then, there has been the political division that continues to threaten our sense of solidarity as a country. There have been the fires and the floods that have threatened even the homes we felt some sense of safety in. No wonder this September 11, when we traditionally re-visit the anniversary of our collective grief as a country, it all feels fresh and intensely personal.
Whether personal or collective, the expression of grief is unpredictable. For some there is a desire to withdraw and isolate, for others the impulse is to cling to and join with others—anything to avoid being alone. Some stop eating; others find new comfort in food and anything that can fill up the feeling of emptiness. Some act out anger and rage in personal and public riots; others become more patient and kind. Some find themselves having difficulty in concentrating in a kind of fog; others cannot turn off their minds and find sleep eluding them. Grief is not only an emotional response, but a physical, mental, spiritual, and social reality.
When we become more aware of grief’s many and unexpected expressions and occurrences, we can be more patient as we work through it ourselves and as others work through it in their own ways and on their own timetables. “Grief work” is a process of healing—not unlike the healing of a physical wound–that requires energy and support. The healing is subtle and looks a lot like practicing a return to doing the everyday things of life whether we feel like brushing our teeth and cleaning up the kitchen or not!
It is in the experiencing of grief that we may come to our truest sense of self. What remains when grief is fully experienced is often gratitude and a deeper capacity for joy, any joy—even winning a season opener game. This is good grief that allows us to dare to embrace life again. We will get through this!
The evacuations from Afghanistan this week have reminded me of a situation in World Ward II when nearly four hundred thousand British and French soldiers were trapped in Dunkirk, a small town in France, where their only escape was by sea and the Germans had power from the air.
The movie, “Dunkirk,” chronicles the dire situation that was solved by willpower and hundreds of small vessels, including private commercial, fishing, and pleasure boats, that set out with the British Navy on the seemingly impossible task of creating a miracle. Not all were saved, but many British as well as French soldiers were rescued by the joint heroism of the Navy and civilians. The term “Dunkirk spirit” refers to the solidarity and will of the British people in times of adversity.
It is chilling to look any kind of evil in the face, The immediate decision is to run away, or, as so many of the rescuers did in the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers, to run toward. Running toward is finding one’s love is greater than one’s fear.
Dunkirk moments come to each of us in some form when we are faced with the choice of risking to take a stand and to help or doing nothing. Peace in one’s own life or in the world is often not a quiet, bucolic experience at heart. It is the feeling of knowing what we stand for and finding the will and a way to keep moving forward.
(You may want to check out the movie, “Dunkirk.” Also, “Digital Dunkirk, Afghanistan”).
I keep thinking about Quan Hongchan, the little sliver of a girl from China who won Gold in the Olympics after completing her impeccable platform dives with scores of “10” across the board. She is only 14 years old. The back story is that Quan has a 400-a-day daily dive routine, that her sports competitions are helping to pay for her mother’s chronic health condition after a 2017 accident, and that her preferred snack is latiao—a spicy snack made of wheat flour and chili seasonings.
In short, Quan is a hard worker, is kind and loyal, likes street treats, and has become an inspiration to the world.
While what we do and accomplish define us in some ways, it is who we are, our back story, that holds the gold. I am amazed every day in hearing clients’ stories about the challenges they have experienced and most often the untold heroism that they have lived. A hero doesn’t always get everything right, but their heroism usually looks like not giving up and in rising to the occasion, especially when it comes to being there for others. Most heroes are humble and dependable.
It is important to notice the heroism of others, not only in stories like the young Olympic diver, but in the lives of those around us. Examples of quiet inspiration may be checking us out at the grocery store or sitting next to us in a waiting room.
Once we become interested in the back story, judgment and prejudice and demonizing those who see things differently than we do become irrelevant.
It is important also to find our own heroism now as we wait out the virus and do everything we can possibly do to fight it, whether that is to get vaccinated or wear a mask, or use common sense in gatherings. Hope is not a plan, but it is the fuel that we need to keep moving forward during this part of our own back stories—living through a global pandemic.