One of the most gut wrenching moments of my life was the minute AFTER my dad took his last breath. Those last days with my dad bleed together in my mind…time was both painfully slow, and also uncontrollably fast. And yet, after he took his last breath, it felt like time stopped. I didn’t know what to think, how to breathe, whether to cry without ceasing or sigh in utter relief that the waiting was over. But seconds after he sighed that last time—and failed to suck breath in again—one of my dear siblings ran out of the room and let out the most primal wail I have ever heard in my life. I have never felt…held…witnessed such deep pain. And yet, the next day—mere hours after experiencing the tsunami of a grief whose equal I have yet to meet—I found myself laughing with a friend in a movie theater. If my life were the movie, I as the viewer would have had a serious case of whiplash trying to connect the two scenes.
In the last few weeks, I have been processing what has to be one of the most defining lessons of my journey: Life is not just one thing. No, life is a maelstrom of color…of beauty AND pain, of joy AND sorrow, of hope AND despair. Sometimes at the same time. Perhaps our human brains struggle to reconcile the reality of such deeply conflicting experiences, but whatever the reason, we try so hard to conform this maelstrom of color into a binary of black and white.
Nothing has taught me this valuable truth to the degree that singleness has. And I want to share what I mean—Not necessarily to garner empathy or understanding (although maybe hearing my experience will give you greater understanding and empathy for single friends in your life?), but because I think the same general principle applies to, well, everyone. What in your life feels like a colorful mural of pain and beauty all mixed together? And how can you invite others in your life to see the full array of colors on display in that mural, instead of just reducing it to a black and white scribble?
For me, singleness has been the most beautiful, transformative stage of my life. And it has also been the most painful.
I can be both incredibly lonely, and also surrounded by amazing, supportive community.
I can be grateful I am not in a painful marriage, grieving alongside those who are, and also still long for a relationship.
To be gut-level honest, one of the hardest parts of my job are the nurse visits I do with newborns and their parents. I watch couples care for each other in the postpartum haze and delight over the new life they mutually brought forth into this world, and every.single.time. it produces an ache in my soul…because I have longed to be on that journey myself for years now. BUT. Those visits are also one of my favorite parts about the job, because I get to share in the delight of these precious families and help ease their concerns and fears during one of the most vulnerable stages of their lives. It is both/and—a maelstrom of color in a world we like to pretend to be black and white.
I can desire and ask to be treated as a full human being in the midst of my singleness—that I be sought out and cared for in friendship, considered for positions of leadership in both secular and religious spaces, and included in conversations even about sexuality, marriage, and parenting. I can desire and ask that you actually care about my WHOLE life, and not just my relationship status. AND, I can also desire and ask that occasionally those I love listen to my angst over how hard singleness is and how deeply I long to NOT be single.
I can celebrate the beautiful aspects of my life that exist purely BECAUSE I am single. I love that I have the flexibility and space in my life to drop everything in order to sit with a friend at the hospital. I love that I get to do life alongside friends raising their babies, helping to carry the load and even living with those families at times. I love that I can travel whenever I want to, make big decisions without having to consult another person, and prioritize my time and finances based on my own convictions and values.
AND. At the same time…
I can also hate making decisions alone and having no one to help shoulder the load of adult responsibility. I can long for a partner to come home to at the end of the day, knowing that person will answer when I call and always be ready to laugh or cry with me. I can also hate the fact that I am the default person asked to do x, y, or z simply BECAUSE I am unattached. I can feel so desperately deprived of human touch, wondering what it must be like to have a steady diet of physical affection.
I desire to be a strong, independent woman—and I also desire partnership and support.
I long for a relationship, and yet I also *hate* despise* loathe* the dating game (what it takes to get there).
Singleness has been the most beautiful stage of my life…and it has also been the most painfully transformative. It is not good OR bad…it is good AND bad. And everything in between. It is a maelstrom of color all swirled together.
What in your life do you find to be both miraculous.beautiful.hopeful—and also excruciatingly hard? I would guess you can relate. If not in singleness, then in any number of situations you might be navigating. I have friends who are walking through grief, health challenges, infertility, faith shifts, parenting challenges…the list could go on and on. And I suspect each of those friends could easily highlight both very painful experiences unique to their lives, AND beautiful, life-affirming moments that only exist BECAUSE of the hard.
What if we gave each other permission to live into the non-dualistic nature of this life? To cry AND laugh—sometimes in the same breath. To respect the pain AND acknowledge that sometimes we want a distraction from the fire we are walking through (case in point? Me going to a movie the day after my beloved dad breathed his last…the friend who held space for that strange day is a saint). What if we embraced each other as we are, while also holding space for who we are becoming?
To do so would require intention…continuing to check in with each other…refusing to assume that what looked like joy and hope yesterday indicates the dissipation or resolution of pain and grief. To do so would require a practiced empathy—seeking to understand a hurt that may not be consistent with your own experience. To do so would be incredibly messy. After all, fingerpainting with a thousand colors could never be neat, clean, or simple. But the artwork we could produce together would be breathtakingly stunning, I think. And I believe that our communities, homes, and world would be more safe and whole if we could learn to make space on our walls and in our lives for the brilliantly spectacular artwork that is the both/and of this journey called life.