I Would Rather Be Ashes than Dust

Jack London has always been, will always be, one of my favorite writers. His style is terribly manly, his subjects hubris-filled survivalists. I remember listening to his short story, “To Build a Fire,” in Mr. Shobe’s 7th grade English class, on an actual phonograph, anxious and chewing my nails because I knew its inevitable conclusion.

Although the provenance of this quote isn’t absolutely verifiable, most sources attribute it to Jack London. It has his cadence and his brashness, and I’ve loved it since I first heard it on an Outward Bound sailing expedition in Penobscot Bay, Maine, back in my early 20s.

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Not too many weeks ago, on the 9 month crap-versary, actually, I read this quote again. As I turned it over, I had an epiphany. I can continue stumbling through my days, white knuckling everything on The Family Calendar, dreading seeing people, ignoring my phone, hiding online, praying and breathing through the hours until I can sleep again. It’s gotten me this far, and it’s kind-of-sort-of working. I’m what a lot of recovery programs would call “high functioning.” I can keep doing what I’m doing.

Photo by Emily Wright, 2015.

Photo by Emily Wright, 2015.

Or maybe … maybe there is another way. Maybe I can do more than survive this. Maybe I can make the choice not to just survive, not just to exist, but to live. I would rather be ashes than dust!

Photo by Emily Wright, 2015.

Photo by Emily Wright, 2015.

It means I need give up the fight, to give up this illusion that grief is something I need to beat back into submission. Grief isn’t my opponent. She is an unwelcome interloper who has taken up residence in my guest room. Ignoring her, diminishing her, pretending she was simply passing through, refusing to acknowledge her constant presence, or actively trying to hold her at arms’ length – all that requires a ridiculous amount of energy. Energy I could be spending on my husband, my children, my friendships, my faith, my writing, my education, my aspirations. I need to maybe not welcome her, but at least accept her as a constant companion.

Ann Voskamp, www.aholyexperience.com, 2015.

Ann Voskamp, http://www.aholyexperience.com, 2015.

It means I need to relinquish My Future. My vision of homeschooling and raising three kids to adulthood has been radically changed. All those plans, all those future celebrations, all the photographs of milestones, all the trips and family nights and even quiet moments with my three kids snuggled around me … I have to open my clenched fists and just. Let. Go.

Photo by Emily Wright, 2015.

Photo by Emily Wright, 2015.

It means I have to move past thinking “I’ll never get to” and embrace “I’m grateful I can.” Instead of dwelling on everything that will never be, how can I welcome the possibilities? What are the possibilities?

I get to be healthy. I’m choosing to beat back not grief, but high cholesterol, high blood pressure, extra weight, and constant fatigue. I get to choose food that will make me feel better, not worse. I get to sweat a few times a week when I run realllly slowly. I get to stretch my middle-aged muscles and calm my mind in yoga class. I even get to work out with my husband and feel closer through our almost-20-years-married commiseration.

I get to be spiritual. This is probably fodder for a separate post. Separate blog. Separate book. The self I knew has been not just diminished, but demolished. There is so much room for His grace, His love, His perfection. I get to start over, recreated in His image. By relinquishing my own plans and my control, I allow Him to use my life in ways beyond my understanding. I am not a victim. I am a witness. How, Lord, can I open myself to Your love, Your glory, Your intention? How can I grow deeper in my relationship with you? My wound is still so wide and so deep. How can I allow You to fill it with healing and grace?

I get to be connected. We were created for community. The harsh truth of grief is that it acts as a winnowing fan. There are friends who will walk with me through the valley, and there are folks who will stand on the cliff and pray. That’s not a judgment, whatsoever. I know the people who are praying still hold my family in their hearts but maintain a respectful distance. We are not forgotten, and the random messages I get weekly remind me of their love. There are a handful of women at my elbow, who are willing and able for whatever reasons, and they grab me when I falter.

I get to be transparent. Maybe this seems like a terrible side effect rather than a welcome gift. As a woman in well into her 40s, however, transparency is something I relish. I have no secrets. My feelings, my grief, are at the very surface of my life. To know me is to know my suffering and my sadness, even though I try to gloss over it sometimes. I’m broken and hurting. If you’re OK with that, then welcome, sister. Let’s be authentic together.

I get to be sad. How often do we give ourselves permission to feel sadness? It sounds hokey, but the foil for sadness is happiness. Embracing one means celebrating the other. The moments we’re happy as a family? So much brighter. The moments I keen for my son? So much sadder. “I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.” I get to LIVE this existence to its fullest.

Today, friends, what do you choose?

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