Observing the dull, distracted state of my mind, lacking motivation, endless days stretched out before me.
This fatigue of the brain is not unlike the experience of the long return home from Australia that we have made three times.
Traveling from one of the farthermost corners of the planet, imagine unending layovers, four connecting flights, four airports in various time zones, a sleepless couple days where nothing can divert or engage, not the inflight movies, the four to five books you always carry, or the possibility of celebrity sightings in airports which are all thrilling on the way to your destination. Returning home has a distinctly different energy. Adventure completed, the thrill of the experience tempered by the length of the homeward journey.
Right now, it feels as though we are on the other side of the epic hero’s journey. The initiation, the rite of passage, that which shook our world and upended our lives, having us face our deepest fears and vulnerabilities and in doing so, drawing deep from the well, consuming all of our reserves, which now feel spent.
Calmness, stability, and predictability are cravings felt deep in the weariness of our bones.
Yet, we are far away from this desired way of being in life.
Johnny, my son, is a Lord of the Rings and all things JRR Tolkien fan. Many of our weekends in his growing years were spent as a family watching the trilogy, as well as the Director’s Cut and I have to say, while I never became as engaged as my son, the archetypal hero’s journey that is found in LOTR and across cosmologies, fascinates me.
I think of Frodo and Sam’s return home from the return of the Ring which is not a riveting part of the tale, but encompassed, if we were to measure in the maps of JRR Tolkien, 1350 miles.
Changed and Transformed.
Dream-worker and author, Toko-Pa Turner speaks of this hero’s journey as an initiation, with several distinct phases. “First, we become separated from false belonging, which is a kind of awakening when the wool is pulled from our eyes. Then we must wholeheartedly grieve the losses we have sustained in exile. And if we grieve well, we come into conversation with our true values, listening for the call to act. If we rise to the challenge, we’ll bring back the medicine we’ve retrieved from our descent, and become contributing agents to global transformation.” From Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home by Toko-Pa Turner
When I was pregnant with my daughter Riley, we found out at 18 weeks in utero that she had spina bifida, a neural tube defect. We elected to have in utero surgery, an experimental surgery that was being piloted in partnership between University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. For four months we lived, across the miles, on the other side of the state, separated from our support system, pre Facebook, pre cell phone service. Complications arose, I lived in the hospital two months on my back and the rest of the time all of us in the Ronald McDonald House while Riley, born at 29 weeks and 3lbs, spent two months in the NICU. I had left home in the winter of February to return in the spring of June, my entire world turned upside down.
We had faced the darkest of times, almost losing our baby girl and witnessing her struggle as a premie and the yet unknown implications of spina bifida.
Returning home, I remember not knowing how to reenter into the routines of daily life, knowing only the rollercoaster of intense joy and sorrow that is living in the hospital. With the exception of my sisters, I didn’t know how to be around other mothers. I had to shift and alter my value system which prior to this didn’t take into account loving a child who faced surgeries, mobility issues and other precarious health issues. When you are pregnant, you hear well wishes such as, “As long as your baby is healthy.”
But what if your baby is not.
Toka-Pa has wise words above. You grieve. You grieve well. You peel back the layers to find a tenderness that is rooted and expansive. Your medicine becomes that which results from realigning your values with what is emerging and calling your heart. Loving freely and fiercely. You establish a new and fresh way to be in the world with compassion and a little more tenderness and opening in your heart.
The epic tale of COVID now has our individual and collective initiations, some at great cost, loss of loved ones, others losing work, the trauma many of our healthcare workers continue to face, the stress and strain on our educators, parents and school aged children, young people losing experiences and normalcy around rites of passage like graduation and prom, the enormous polarization of the country and great racial wounds exposed by the lack of reckoning and acknowledgment of harm that continues to perpetuate more violence.
So we are now returning home. We have a modicum of stability returning to our government. We have the hope of the vaccine and the emerging science around Covid treatment. We have tentative steps towards racial healing. And yet, we still have 1350 miles (LOTR metaphor here) to do on a path that is not free from danger and challenge. This long and winding road where we travel back is changed, shaped and transformed by grief, by loss, by encountering our own resistance and the tired beauty of our resilience.
Home. The landscape forever altered by loss. Will our individual and collective grief open our hearts to each other or retreat us into silos? How have our values been shaped and affirmed and also altered by these times?Have your values shifted to see that we all need to be well for all of us to be well? What is your medicine? Let’s not be in too big of a hurry to reemerge without our medicine. Can we be tender and generous with our medicine, for ourselves and each other and be as Toko-Pa says contributing agents of transformation in our own lives, families and communities.