I’m not alone in losing sleep these days. This morning I woke at four, tried falling back to sleep, tried meditating, tried figuring out what I’d write for these reflections, gave up, and finally rose. My mind spins with Covid losses, racial inequities, political tensions, environmental disasters, and the impending election. With a child attending school from home my work day is chop suey, leaving me wasted and scattered when I finally crawl into bed. Add exhaustion on top of trauma (and, admittedly, mine is mild) and I’m a jumbled mess. I know regular meditation would help, or a regular writing practice, or regular anything, but that’s precisely what’s unavailable.
Too much of what I assumed was reliable has proven otherwise. My only comfort as I toss and turn is that I’m not alone.
When rioting and arson swept down Lake Street not a mile from us in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, Emily and I gathered our important papers and a change of clothes. We made a hasty evacuation plan. We packed the car. That night the air was thick with smoke and sirens and helicopters. Needless to say I didn’t sleep. Instead I thought about cities crushed by war and refugees fleeing violence and millennia of humans uprooted by natural disasters, and how I, a privileged American raised during a rare period of stability, now knew the smallest taste of civil chaos. For the first time ever I had to consider my family’s survival.
I can’t forget that feeling. It keeps me up at night.
Richard Rohr, the Franciscan who revolutionized my relationship to Christianity, says what begins with order must pass through disorder to arrive at a transformed reorder. I’ve had my life upended by personal loss enough times to recognize the truth of this process. Awareness of my bisexuality set me on a spiritual path. My nephew’s death yanked me out of an unfulfilling career into meaningful work. My partner’s life-threatening cancer forced me to cherish loved ones now. Each of these experiences was devastating and yet brought me a worldview more aligned with the truth, with my values.
Likewise in writing: A draft has to be radically dismantled before it can find a new dimension of unity. I can’t tell you how many writers come to me unsettled by the chaos of their projects. My job isn’t to help them solve their problems; it’s to usher them through the mess toward something new.
So it may be that our flawed normalcy (a malfunctioning democracy, an economy bent on destroying the environment, a culture that proclaims equality and practices racial discrimination) is being dismantled. We’re in the throes of deep revision and the only way out is through. Disconcerting as the process is, and as much as we may lose on the way, we can become like millions of refugees before us who’ve left death-dealing situations in hopes of finding—and building—a life-giving new world. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew