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The Best We Can

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(First, apologies for starting this new adventure off on a blue note. Truthfully, I’ve had this 90% written for about a month, and my brain has just flat refused to let me do anything else until I put this out into the world.)

I don’t know if you’ve been feeling it where you are, but the new year has felt heavy to me this time around. Like one of those hulking winter coats from a thrift store that smells kind of funny and never fits you quite right. There’s sorrow and loss around every corner, it seems, and I’m starting to wonder if my heart can survive it.

I’m not even talking about the big guns like ISIS and Charlie Hebdo, or even Ferguson – the huge, gut-wrenching calamities we can’t begin to comprehend, let alone cope with. No, these are closer – intimate personal tragedies that hit much too close to home, sinking their teeth into your tender spots and leaving you bruised and utterly bewildered. More dear friends and family members than I can wrap my brain around have lost parents, grandparents, friends or beloved pets already this year – and it’s only February. Others are dealing with unimaginably hard things in their lives that can only be described as staggeringly unfair. My husband’s 36-year-old barber died of a heart attack 3 days into the new year. In what universe does that make sense?

Of course there’s never a “good” time to go through something this bottomless and dark, but starting the new year on such a fugue-like note has left me in a strange place, one that’s too quiet, too aware. I’m trying to hold tight to what I have while making room in my heart to grieve all of these losses at once. Turns out, that’s quite a lot to carry.

I’ve caught myself squinting into the distance, hoping to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture or anything resembling meaning – something to gain from all this loss. But the light is faint, and sometimes it feels a bit like a mouse pointing a flashlight into the abyss. What can little old I possibly hope to illuminate in all this darkness?

After hearing that someone we love had lost her father suddenly, a dear friend said, “We’re too young to lose our parents.” And she’s right of course. But when are we old enough? For any of this? We’re too young, too fragile, too human for any of it. To be losing our friends, our partners, our colleagues, our pets…it’s just too much.

All I know is that I don’t know much of anything. There are no answers, and the sorrow I feel for these people whose lives will never be the same sits heavily on my shoulders. But I’m hoping against hope that somehow in the great karmic game of Hot Potato, my wearing all of this grief for a while lightens the load for someone else, even for a moment or two.

So, what can you do? When you’re faced with so much and feel so helpless? That’s the Big Question, of course. We all want a solution, so very badly. A + B, carry the 1, and that will get you straight to C. But Big Questions never have Easy Answers. To be honest, this is where I stopped writing last week. Because I was stumped. And platitudes…well, a pinch of Hallmark is better than nothing, but it seldom gets the job done.

The other day, when the cashier at my little neighborhood post office was as close to tears as a man gets in public over the loss of his friend, the aforementioned barber, he shrugged and said, “What can we do but move on?”

Now just a minute, I told him. Not so fast. Sit with your grief for a while. It’s okay. Miss your friend, honor his life, and feel the loss before you file it away. And though I feel like I almost never have the right words, the look of relief on his face when I said this to him makes me think it might have helped just a little.

The next day, though my heart was still heavy and I was in no place to be social, I found myself chatting with the handyman at my building as he strolled by. Out of nowhere, and having almost nothing to do with anything we were talking about, he suddenly said to me, “Just do the best you can with today.”

(I tell you, almost without exception, profound comes from the one place you absolutely never expect to find it.)

The more I thought about it, the more his words just sort of wriggled their way through the dark, twisty places in my head and took root. Do the best you can. Just for today. Whatever’s happening, whatever’s brought your heart low…instead of wondering how you’ll ever manage to solve the world’s evils, focus on any small thing that would make even one dark corner just a tiny bit brighter. Compliment someone. Buy a stranger’s latte. Smash a plate. Just do the best you can with today.

With those wise little words still wriggling around in my ears, we – my heavy heart and I – came home and sent flowers to my friend whose father died. Then we made a coffee date with a friend who’s struggling, and sent a loving email to another. And after that, we called my great aunt, whose son died just before Christmas, to let her talk about nothing at all for as long as she needed to.

Nothing was fixed, of course – loved ones were still gone, struggles were still there. But we’d done the best we could. And when I hung up the phone, my heart and I felt just a little bit better. For today.

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