all of the selves we Have ever been
“The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” (1 Samuel 18:1)
I treasure this ancient and beautiful description of friendship and the image of souls knit together into one fabric, a cloth fashioned from threads that are soft and strong and deep. A similar description in the book of Mark describes marriage: “and the two shall become one flesh” (10:8).
Like Davidandjonathan, we all know relationships that share one name in our mental directory: Rickyanddennis, Maryandbill, Betsyandjoe, Bobbyanddenise, Momanddad, Nanaandpop-pop, brotherandsister, husbandandwife, parentandchild. When one dies, our minds struggle to compute.
For the surviving half, the ache of loss can become like phantom limb pain. It is not psychological, as in “all in your head.” It is not “unresolved grief,” or “complicated bereavement.” As the brain continues to remember the missing limb and continues to try to communicate with it, so the soul still speaks, activating emotions, trying to connect with the missing member.
Dr. Gordon Livingston who experienced the deaths of two sons, one from leukemia and one from suicide, writes in his book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: “Like all who mourn I learned an abiding hatred for the word “closure,” with its comforting implications that grief is a time-limited process from which we all recover.”
During this year of 2020, we have experienced so much tragedy. The pandemic alone has generated a landslide of loss. Add to that disaster the unprecedented wildfires, a record hurricane season, increases in violent crime and murder, and deaths from drug overdoses and suicides. There are so many who have been ripped apart from their other halves, carrying on with aching, missing limbs. And there are the thousands of health care workers who were present as the threads were cut who will forever carry the memories of those moments and the grief absorbed.
A vaccine is coming. This viral-crisis will end, but words like “let the healing begin” or “getting closure” will be inadequate. There is not a starting line and a pistol shot to mark the beginning, and there is no finish line. The effects of this difficult year will be felt not just individually, but in our national soul forever.
In Greek mythology, Pandora opened a jar containing sickness, death, and evil. Before she could close the container, all of that darkness escaped into the world. Pandora hurriedly closed the container, and all that remained in the jar was hope.
Dr. Livingston offers some advice to other survivors of loss. He writes not about closure or healing, but about hope: “This is what passes for hope: those we have lost evoked in us feelings of love that we didn’t know we were capable of. These permanent changes are their legacies, their gifts to us. It is our task to transfer that love to those who still need us. In this way we remain faithful to their memories.”
Today, there are millions in mourning. We must call upon our better halves and transfer some of that love to those who need us.