A New Perspective

I was reaching for a can of garbanzo beans at Newflower Market on Tuesday when it dawned on me that I was not miserable. Grocery shopping falls somewhere down the chore scale into the range of scrubbing toilets and cleaning up vomit. It has to be done, but I’m not exactly joyful about it.

So here I was in this mom and pop little whole-foods grocery store with my kids, pushing a tiny cart down a little canned-goods aisle, and I realized that I was almost having fun. Instead of the dizzying array of choices that I normally behold at my neighborhood behemoth H-E-B, I had exactly one brand of garbanzo beans to choose from.

Clink. In the cart.

Two brands of black beans. Picked the cheaper one. Clink. In the cart.

And so it went. Dairy. Produce. Bulk goods. Decision-making was straightforward and simple because there wasn’t much of a decision to make. I didn’t have thousands of trees of canned goods obscuring the forest. As a result, we got out of there in under 30 minutes and I wasn’t even irritated.

Moments of clarity are beautiful.

My dear great-aunt Ebba died last week. She was the last of my paternal grandmother’s generation, the final survivor of eight siblings who had arrived in this world somewhere around the turn of the 20th century.

Three autumns ago her older sister, my grandma, died after a short but painful illness. We had become very close over the years of my adulthood and motherhood, and my grandmother’s death, although not unexpected, was a blow to me. I had lost my other three grandparents in my late teens and early 20’s, but this time it was different. I can point to her death as the moment in time when my perspective changed from an outlook of a hopeful, happy future to the opposite.

It’s hard to explain what I mean about this perspective, but I’ll try. Many times over the past three years I have felt like there is a giant well of collective human sadness and misery just underneath us. I mean this figuratively. It seemed like I had spent my life up until then oblivious to the reality of misery. People talked about it, sure, but it wasn’t real to me. And then one day I fell through a hole into the well and I couldn’t get out. Every time I started to make progress, something new would push me under again, and I’d feel like I was drowning.

The hardest part of it wasn’t the day-to-day aspect of grieving for things lost; it was the terror of what is to come. I have only scratched the surface of what it is possible to lose. There are so many dizzying possibilities, it has been overwhelming to contemplate them. How can I function in this horrifying future when I feel on the edge of not functioning now? That has been the overriding question.

Hundreds of people showed up for Aunt Ebba’s funeral last Saturday. The church was packed. She was a beloved member of her family and of her community. Both before and after the funeral, I gathered with dozens of cousins, fellow great-nieces and nephews, grandchildren and aunts and uncles, and we talked and ate and reminisced and updated each other on our lives. We laughed and cried and ate some more.

And somewhere in the middle of hearing the stories of their lives something that has long been at the edge of my consciousness finally broke through: life is hard for everyone. It’s not just hard for me. It’s hard for everyone.

Clink. In the heart.

That sudden clarity, the understanding I finally achieved, not just in my brain but in my gut—that life is hard for everyone—made me realize that we’re all in this together. I am not enduring things alone. I am enduring things as part of a community that must endure things. I can’t explain what a relief it is to know that.

The millions of trees of future losses are fading away into an endurable forest, and I am not miserable.

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