Editor’s Desk: Descent into the Cave of Regret

 

My heart is aching and tears are forming in my eyes as I watch a family joyously having a squirt gun fight in a scene in the TV series Council of Dads. I pause to check in with my body trying to understand what triggered my tears. Was it the mother, the kids, the supportive men, or the absent father that touch something deep within me?

Am I still missing Michael? I count on my fingers, tick off the years that feel like yesterday: 2012-one, 2013-two, 2014-three, 2015-four, 2016-five, 2017-six, 2018-seven, 2019-eight, 2020-nine. I ponder: Does the backyard scene remind me of the many joyous and ecstatic moments our loving enjoyed or is it a siren call whose refrain is chanting the myriad ways I was unkind?

Drilling down into my grief to discover what my tears are about, I come to a cave of regret. I regret not loving Michael enough. I regret not loving him constantly. In this cave there is no memory of moments when we delighted in one another’s company. There are no recordings of my appreciation of him. There is no comfy couch of remembering in this deep dwelling that allows me to reflect on my acts of kindness and caring. There is a plaque on a throne-like chair that reads “Place of Dark Sorrow.” The walls are covered with a sticky-hands reaching out to pull from me my deeply felt ache for missed opportunities to love.

Grief takes in such a wide horizon. It’s like the end of the day as the earth rises up and turns her face toward the endless night untouched by the rays of the sun.

However, just as starlight fills the darkness, I know this feeling of deep remorse will not last forever. This darkness holds a paradox: along with the tears, there is a glimmer of light that twinkles with the hope of something beyond the grief. The tears remind me that my heart is not numb; it is alive with feeling. Touching my awakened heart and allowing myself to fully feel regret, I’m coaxing joy to begin to blossom. As I inhale its fragrance, I’m in awe at how both joy and regret can simultaneously share a place in the heart. To feel the light I must also feel the dark.

As I contemplate further on why such a small act like a scene in the TV show moves me so profoundly, I begin to understand that to be open to this personal field of grief also makes me sensitive to a greater field. Along with my personal grief, I wonder if I’m also tapping into a collective grief.

As I check into my heart, I’m convinced that this collective grief is touching us no matter where we live or with whom we associate. It’s being expressed by hundreds of thousands, even millions of citizens gathering at this time to witness and protest the prevailing injustices, racism, and oppression that are no longer hidden in the shadows. It is grief put into action. It is grief over the truth of the systemic dehumanizing of Americans of African Descent. This reality is spread out before us in vivid sunlight where it cannot be denied. The world has been stripped of its familiarity and those of us who swim in a container of privilege have the opportunity to see beyond the safety of our own aquarium.

We can join others in an expression of grief and bravely stand and march together committing to supporting and sustaining the momentum as collectively we bend the long arc of history towards justice, dignity, and goodness for all. For those of us who have grown up in the light of privilege, it is ours not only to stand with others in their grief, it is ours to listen deeply and be faithful and enduring witnesses to this turning of the tide of history.

 I feel this poem has potent advice for those of us who have benefited from systemic privilege.

-Justine

When You Meet Someone Deep in Grief

Slip off your needs
and set them by the door.

Enter barefoot
this darkened chapel

hollowed by loss
hallowed by sorrow

its gray stone walls
and floor.

You, congregation
of one

are here to listen
not to sing.

Kneel in the back pew.
Make no sound,

let the candles
speak.

-Patricia McKernon Runkle