Saturday, October 03, 2020

Rebooting Our Lives

In this new normal, we take walks to the cemetery.

When Paul fell off a platform three months ago, we all fell with him. From the high meadow of normal, busy, everyday life, we fell off a cliff and into a turbulent river. Since then, we’ve all been swimming out of the river and clawing our way up the cliff on the other side, to what looks from here like another meadow of normal life, but a different landscape than before.

In those first days and weeks after a shocking event, you don’t process much, mentally or emotionally. The predominant emotion is grief, when someone you love has died, or gratitude, when they somehow survived.

Later, you feel a wider variety of emotions and think about what happened and how it affects you. My uncle was killed in a logging accident when I was twelve. His widow told me, years later, how she was in shock, at first, and it was a mercy from God. As time went on, it was like a window opening, little by little. She realized more, felt more, understood more. Feeling and knowing it all at once would have been more than anyone could handle, she said.

Paul requires very little help at this point. I am gradually getting back the brain that disappeared when he fell, and I haven’t lost my drivers license or anything of equal importance for at least a week. He works on warehouse paperwork at home. I’m back to deadheading flowers and writing.

That doesn’t mean that we’ve returned to how things were. Instead, we’re still climbing that cliff to the meadow of a new normal life, but it’s still too far off to get a clear look at it.

Other things, however, are clearer than ever.

Life’s big, terrible events seem utterly without redemption in the moment, but I’ve found that they are not without blessings. One of them is clarity.

When you’re powering along every day and making most of it work, a fog can rise around you, imperceptibly. You ignore the parts that aren’t working, the mistakes you keep repeating, and the weird ways you try to appease the difficult people.

Tragedy blows away the fog and makes things clear.

It reminds me of the control-alt-delete feature on a computer that, according to “reboot[s] the operating system (ha[s] it shut down and restart itself).”

When we hit a moose and our van burned up in 1994, I was insanely grateful that we all survived. Later, I realized how much that shaped my appreciation of an ordinary day and my belief that people are infinitely more important than things. It provided an ongoing guide in making decisions.

My nephew’s death by suicide in 2006 convinced me that we all need to talk about mental health and family history. I probably have a reputation by now as the meddling woman who asks young men straight up if they’re doing ok and expects an honest answer. My reputation in this regard is of no concern to me. That grief made me see clearly that no young person should suffer alone like Leonard did, and no family should experience such a loss.

My parents’ passings in 2013 and 2019 were gentler and more expected, of course, but not without deep grief. They also brought a new clarity about how I had perceived my place in the family. It was time to put aside the “facts” I had absorbed as a seven-year-old and not questioned enough since. My older siblings didn’t get to dictate the ultimate truths of the universe, and they had actually been children themselves, trying to make sense of the world, when these truths were declared. Not everything was my fault. I had actually been a normal child. Mistakes were not sins, nor sins mistakes.

For years, I’ve been busy with activities and duties I chose and others I didn’t--hobbies, projects, people, obligations, and responsibilities. When Paul was in the hospital and then later at home, needing fulltime care, I dropped all of my former commitments without hesitation or apology. As I adjusted his pillows and doled out medicine, my own wishes and needs began to sprout like radish seedlings in a bare, tilled garden. I realized I wanted to do certain things. I definitely didn’t want to take on others. As Paul recovers, I can say yes or no, decisively.

You make the choice to hit control-alt-delete when your computer is sluggish or stalled. You don’t get a choice when tragedy shows up. However, as you process the losses and changes, you get the choice to accept the little gifts that disaster brings, and then those hard, hard times are not useless, wasted, or without redemption.


  1. It seems to me that: In this new normal, we take walks past the cemetery.

    1. Either is technically true.

    2. This picture is iconic. It's beautiful. It speaks volumes. This is one I could enlarge, frame and hang on the wall.

  2. Good to have you back writing your blog again! So glad to hear how well Paul is recovering!

  3. Problem with me is I have a hard time discerning which obligation I take on for my sake and which are obligatory. I have a bad habit of viewing everything as necessary, and it's hard to break. Any tips, besides a bad accident, for gaining clarity?

    1. I don't have a lot of advice, because it took a bad accident to really clarify it for me. However, before that I had started seeing that there were things I took on because people had placed them on me without ever asking my permission. Minister's wife obligations in particular. People assumed they got to say what I ought to do in that role. Once I saw the unfairness of that, it was easier to start saying No.
      If you feel resentful, it's good to trace that back as far as you can and see where it comes from. Resentment means you're saying Yes because you don't feel that No is an option.

  4. "Resentment means you're saying Yes because you don't feel that No is an option." That is profound, and something I never thought of before. I've been pressured into taking on things before and then resented them. I'm going to start exploring WHY I think saying no is not an option.

    Thanks for the insight,
    Shannon Combs