As many of you can tell from my Instagram posts (@breadandcup), I’ve been traveling a lot these last two months. I love to travel but did not have the opportunity for several years. Since a college student, I’ve always had the desire to set out on the road to step into the unknown. Sometimes watching a passing freight train produces that curiosity of jumping on and wondering where it would take me.
There were many people at Karen’s memorial that came from long distances who I had not seen in many years. I felt so bad that I couldn’t say thank you personally to everyone with a hug and face to face acknowledgment. But in my emotional state that day I knew I had to make a choice to limit the interaction to family and only a few select friends.
As the last guests left my house and city, I began to entertain the idea of finding some of these friends that made the trek to Lincoln and travel to see them on their home turf. And I’ve done just that. It has proven to be a significant part of my grief process.
What the travel has done for me is to make room for grief to unfold. The moments that emerged were surprises, as is the case with grief. But had I not carved out the place, I would have been less likely to have these experiences.
If I ever write about grief in the future, it will probably be more of a pamphlet than a book. It’s because what I am learning about grief is fairly simple. While grief is different for every individual, everyone will benefit from simply listening and paying attention.
I have been reading a book titled The Body Keeps Score. The simple premise is that my body retains more information than I can ever imagine, especially from traumatic experiences, but also from happy moments. My body holds the keys to unlock these past encounters so I can make sense of them and eventually find healing from the bad, but also in celebration of the good.
On Saturday morning, I took a walk through downtown Tulsa and immediately began to feel something unusual. I could not put my finger on it, so I reckoned I should listen and pay attention. At that point I realized that I was standing in front of the hotel where Karen and I spent our first night as a married couple. I melted in emotion.
I walked into the lobby and memories came back like a dam bursting. I was immediately washed downstream into a place without cancer or financial stress. I found myself in a season of love and delight nearly 30 years ago. I couldn’t tell if I was happy or sad. But I knew it was important nonetheless. But it would not have happened if I hadn’t listened and paid attention.
I continued on my walk through downtown Tulsa, home of magnificent highrises in the art deco style architecture. The same feeling came over me. What’s continuing? More listening. More paying attention.
I found me and my dad.
Dad loved wrestling, or ‘rasslin’ as we called it in Oklahoma. On Monday nights in the Civic Center in downtown Tulsa, he would take me to see guys like Danny Hodge and Cowboy Bill Watts put on their show. On these outings as a little boy, I recall seeing these big ornate buildings and especially the NBC bank building that had the flashing light beacon on top that signaled green for good weather or red for imminent threatening weather. As I paid attention to the score that my body had kept all these years, I felt as a 56 year old man the closeness with my dad on those trips as a 10 year old boy.
I continued walking and paying attention.
I turned the corner and saw this building in the corridor of other skyscrapers. I bet you feel something similar to what I did. “That sure looks like the World Trade Center.” And we all have the score of that day etched into our bodies.
As I returned to the apartment where I was staying, I came upon a circle of sculptures. This one was titled Freedom from Polio. It depicted a little girl tossing away her crutches and stepping out uninhibited. But it was the smile on her face that broke me into more tears. I imagined that’s what Karen’s face looked like when she finally shed the hindrance of cancer.
Listen and pay attention to your body. It’s kept score all your life. It wants to tell you something. You can’t change the score, but you can change the game.