I had a dream last night that I was riding on a train through LA that wouldn’t stop.
Night was imminent, an eerie sensation of helplessness in the midst of this train’s planned, intentional and determined route sunk deep into my gut and bones.
It wasn’t a panicked helplessness like that time the bus I was riding in Bangkok broke down at a random spot in the city (this situation ended up completely okay, not to worry).
No, it was like a deep-seated grief, coupled with nostalgia, memory, sadness and loss that began to emerge. The places this train was taking me were intentional and meaningful spots where significant moments in the past four years had taken place. It carried me by restaurants and parks where I’d passed old time with friends, by my church in Santa Monica, by a spot in Manhattan Beach where I’d taken my dad once, when he visited, to take photos, the old company I used to work for, the hospital that I’m working at now but not going to be working at for much longer, a churro spot where I had a date before quarantine started.
I woke up not because the train stopped, but because I realized that everything was empty and it jolted me; every place and memory wasn’t filled by the people that were once a part of it; there was only an empty shell of a building or distant voices but no one to associate them with as the train passed by each spot.
I don’t know what to make of this haunting dream, except that maybe it’s a representation of how quarantine, how this current state of the world feels, a subconscious, haunting, visual representation of emptiness and loss.
This time feels all about dichotomies and tensions to me — the tension between exhaustion & rest, silence & noise, essentiality and non-essentiality, virtual chatter & solitude, different degrees and types of grief (like the grief of the enormity of a global pandemic that’s claiming hundreds of thousands of lives or grief over a relationship that never happened or grief over not being able to see my family or friends), the past, present, future and the way they’ve melded together to become one and the same. The way I’m answering questions I’m faced with as a chaplain visiting families with sick children & the way I’m answering questions that I ask myself — the question that emerges from all of that: when is it okay to not have answers?
That train ride reminded me that I have lost things over the years.
And in the past month.
Things that may not be as “big” as others’ losses, but things that I need to make space to grieve the loss of, all the same.
Maybe an appropriate response to some of this tension, these dichotomies, is to make space for lament and grief. What does it look like for us to mourn the losses that we’ve faced in this time, without comparing them to other types or magnitudes of losses, without necessarily seeing them in tension with anything else, but instead simply a true representation of our past and present experience?
Sometimes the tension is good.
Sometimes though, it’s necessary to hold each thing individually, give each of those things space instead of inherently understanding them as “in tension,” in comparison with other things (I’m saying this more to myself than you). Our human brains look for significance, to make sense of things. It often doesn’t make sense why we care about certain things more than others; why some things move us much more or make us much more sad than other things. How do we measure personal significance or truly mourn our losses if we’re trying to understand their inherent “worth” in comparison to other things?
The losses through which your train ride would take you, over this past month and a half especially, matter a lot.
How do we make space for the grief and the loss of both “big” and “small” things?
How do we understand that all of those things are important and they matter?
What would your train ride look like? How would it make you feel? How would you remember, honor and lean into each of those places of memory?