The table is crowded.
Across from me is a young woman, excited, bubbly, talkative. She’s smiling in a shy way, eager to share, aware it’s best not to share too much. She seems to understand she has many things others don’t: a healthy body, a mind-heart in recovery, a stable, nourishing, elevating relationship, many friends and family who adore her wholeheartedly, a stable income, fun and creativity at work, as well as purpose and meaning. Most importantly, she has the privilege of choice. And she seems to understand that, too. As she talks about leaving the city, living in the country with a remote job close to family, wanting to have children, wanting to have more space, she's embracing her fears and questions, welcoming the challenge of a big life change and the possible turbulence, loneliness, uncertainty that will come with it. She seems resourced. The difficult emotions she's experiencing don't seem to take away from her excited presence.
The woman to my right is the most quiet one. She doesn't say much – or anything at all - other than sharing at one point that she's Turkish, and that a Turkish woman was brutally raped and murdered by a man a few days ago. She feels mostly frozen, like a well of despair and grief wanted to erupt from her chest but turned into ice just before it could escape her body. I don't really know what Turkish people look like these days, except for a few images or memories here and there. She is beautiful even in her frozenness. I wonder if she would melt a little in the presence of other Turkish people who share her pain. I wonder when she will be able to be in that presence.
To my left is a love story. It looks like another young woman but we can all tell that the woman has retreated and the love story has taken over. She seems controlled by the love she feels for this man, by how of much of it she wants to give and she can’t. “He’s not present,” she says, over and over again. “Don’t you need to be present in order to love? Isn’t this the one and only prerequisite?” She shares that this love story is 12 years old, which is funny because as she speaks, she herself seems to be at that age. “Who wasn’t present for her before?” I ask myself. The image of an emotionally unavailable mother appears. The image of a violent father ensues. We let the images come and go, with a heaviness in our chests.
Down along to my right, next to the frozen Turkish lady, is someone who appears to be more gender neutral. In this lack of gender performance is a deeper and purer sense of common humanity. They speak about their loneliness for the most part. A loneliness that doesn’t seem to connect to a break up or loss, to living alone or feeling lonely in a crowd, to belonging or not to certain groups. “Just loneliness,” they say. “It is just loneliness.” This puzzles us since we are not used to emotions non-attached to story lines. “When did it start? How does it happen? When does it arise?” we ask. “Is it the loneliness of not relating to others? Is it the lack of touch? Is it the lack of human eyes gazing at you in real life? The lack of nature?” They smile, indicating they also have asked themselves the same questions many times before. They got no answers. “This might be just the default loneliness of the human condition,” they explain. “Oh,” we say. “Yea. We know that feeling.”
“What’s on the menu?” an old lady asks with a sweet voice as she hops into the empty chair on the left of the 12 year old love story. She has long, wavy, shiny gray hair that she has generously spread around her big black eyes and olive skin. “Anything good?” With her question, we remember the food in front of us, now growing cold. As we stutter, she smiles with the smile of old people who have seen it all and made it through. She seems grounded. Grounded to food, to earth, to air, to love. To the basics, really. But not in a self-righteous way. Not in the way of a young mindfulness teacher, constantly reminding you to “come back to presence”. She does it in the most loving way possible, which I think is a loving preserved for grandparents. This is a way that says, “I’m here. And you can be, too.”
And so with that, I come back.
I ask myself:
Who am I in these moments?
The answer comes:
I am all these people, sitting around the table.
I am here, sitting with my grief, my frozenness, my excitement, my privilege, my own internal resources.
I am here, with all of my selves of the moment, as well as my future self at age 90, whom I lovingly call Grandma Zey.
I am, as Tara Brach often says, “the holder and the held”.
Doing my best to make space for it all.