I had an unexpectedly harrowing experience this evening.
Hudson was squeezing my wrist tenderly, which he sometimes does when I read him a story. Tonight’s story was a new one, a quaint little book about a small child narrating to what seems to be another small child about how to survive in the city. It’s a cute book, but sometimes the child’s advice seems questionable: Yes, laundry vents do often smell good, but is it advisable to nap underneath one? And should you really just let yourself into the neighbor’s home to listen to her practice the piano?
Throughout the course of the story it suddenly becomes clear that the child narrator is not talking to another child, but in fact, he is giving advice to his lost cat to keep him safe in a big city and to encourage him to return home. By the time I tucked in Hudson, I had a lump the size of a meatball in my throat for the little child and his little lost cat.
Emerging from Hudson’s room, Jeremy was able to ascertain after one look at my face, “Oh my gosh, did you just read Small in the City‽”
He had read it to Hudson earlier that day and had a similarly surprising emotional experience. Knowingly, he reached out his arms for a hug; together we processed the emotional upheaval wrought by an innocent-looking child’s book. We were able to share the hugeness of feeling, then laugh at ourselves (I mean, it was just a children’s book), dust each other off and put each other back together.
Grief is often–too often–felt in isolation. How much better it was to sink into a hug with someone who shared my exact feelings than try to shake it off myself? It’s one of the greatest ironies that right now much of the world is all sharing a very similar grief (is it grief? I think yes, to some extent, yes), and yet we cannot extend our arms for a hug? We are limited to pixels, to text, to emojis. We’re experiencing something so big; we’re experiencing it together, and quixotically, we’re experiencing it alone.
And another tension, I have a greater and more profound desire to help my neighbor, but I am also afraid of them. I want to bring them a snack and a roll of toilet paper, but I haven’t been wearing a hazmat suit, so I’m scared to. I love them and I worry for them and I’m mad at them when they pass too close on the sidewalk. But also, I just want to break that six-feet fourth wall and find some way–anyway–to meaningfully feel this in the same time in the same place as you.
And so I’m having to discover there are other ways to hug–A nice compliment. A phone call. Marco Polo. Instagram. I crave connection right now, because I have a meatball-sized lump in my throat in any given moment. And I think I know today, more than I knew yesterday, that we can be proximally distant but relationally close. I’m holding relationships nearer, and friendships dearer. I’m looking for ways to express and feel care in ways that I haven’t always been as cognizant. It’s forcing me to be patient. This is forcing me to be resilient. It’s forced me to be a different kind of kind.
It’s not that I’m looking for the silver lining because our grief isn’t finished being felt. It’s just that I remember you and cherish you differently today because I miss you. And even if we can’t experience grief together, we can still experience it together, you know?
So bring on the memes and the posts about social isolation. Show me how crazy you’re going and how much makeup you’re not wearing. Chronicle your fears to me in exhaustive detail. Tell me when you’re sad. Share your happiness when it comes, and don’t be afraid to tell me if it flits away. I’m experiencing all of that too.
This is your hug.