A Time of No Longer. A Time of Not Yet.
“I started in one direction and ended up where I am today. How I could have come to be where and who I am is beyond my understanding.”
A friend recently shared these words with me to account for the impact that grief had had on him. We talked about how grief does curious things to people and clearly, the past two years have been fraught with tremendous grief in both a personal and collective sense. For me, the losses of these years have felt like two steps forward and three steps back. Grief shows up in the absence of simple pleasures– going out for a beer, ice cream, or a movie — or in bigger losses like a job, a home, or a loved one.
Over the past two months, I have written of my mother’s passing. I have tried to make sense of this loss, and in this context, my friend Rachel shared a photo with me.
It was the image of a chrysalis that perfectly encapsulated my state of being. In my reflections, I realized that I had built a shell around myself, and I was hanging by a mere thread. Inside, every single cell was undergoing change. Grief had deconstructed me, and if I was going to manage my circumstances while living through this pain, I would need to take a completely different approach.
In the days that followed, I shared the photo with my friends, and asked them to offer their thoughts and feelings. Here is some of the wisdom and comfort that I gained –
Like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, we must all go through this process. Grief and struggle are the catalysts that allow that to happen. Embrace it. Be kind to it. And in time, something beautiful will emerge.
We have all been in a chrysalis these past two years — forced into isolation, and knowing, that if we emerge too soon — we could die. This is a time for a collective reset — to examine our priorities — bake bread, not work so hard, and just take the time to be with ourselves.
I’ve been in that shell many times, and it’s ok to stay in there. You take all the time you need, babe. I’ll be right here to protect you.
Two weeks later, Rachel shared a second photo. Now, the chrysalis had transformed from light green to deep ebony, and the wonder that might soon emerge had begun to appear through the translucent shell.
I too had changed, taking on the strength and beauty that had been my mother’s hallmarks. I could feel myself integrating these aspects into myself in ways that were uniquely mine. People who knew my mom began to see hints of her in me. Still, grief’s hold was still quite intense and I was still too tender to fully emerge. I even wondered whether to hope for a time where the sadness would subside. When I shared my thoughts and this image with one close confidante, she said -
Hope is hard because you have to leave the unknown and go to a place that’s new. But when you’re ready, you can come on out and we will celebrate your new, fabulous self.
For me, the stubborn tenacity of this phase was frustrating. It had been nearly a month since my mom had passed. I needed to break out and re-engage with the world, but every time I tried, I’d only retreat back to my shell, feeling more grief-stricken and tender than ever. Then, three days later, Rachel shared this photo.
While we are all familiar with this transformative process, it is still miraculous every time we see it. There is barely anything recognizable of the caterpillar that was before, and of the chrysalis that protected it. The beauty and splendor of the butterfly outshines all that was before.
Struggle is still present. In its fight to escape the chrysalis, the butterfly pulls the life force to its wings, enabling it to fly.
“Don’t be thankful for just the good things,” one friend said. “The miseries of this life will teach you much more in becoming a better human being. Remember, if the butterfly doesn’t struggle, it will not thrive.”
It is the struggle and hardship of grief that the ingredients of hope and justice — patience, empathy, compassion, grace — are cultivated.
The journey of this butterfly reminds me to check the time on the clock of our world. Things will not be as they were before. The pandemic — and all of its related crises or the loss of my mother — one global and the other deeply personal — have resulted in fundamental changes. We find ourselves at a new beginning, fresh from so many endings, still tender, still forming, reaching forward and falling back.
We are in a time of no longer. And a time of not yet.
How are you going to hold yourself and others in these times? Are you going push yourself to emerge too soon, and run the risk that you might harm yourself in the process? Or are you going to give yourself, and others, the patience, compassion, empathy, and grace to know that something amazing and beautiful will emerge in its time?
My question suggests the answer I wish for myself and for you. Be mindful of what you need to navigate these times, and be unafraid to ask for help. As long as we lean into the miracle of our capacity to regenerate and begin anew, we will find ways to emerge from our shells, and fly.
Questions for Reflection and Consideration
- Which of these three photos best describes where you are at today?
- How does it feel to be in this stage?
- What do you need to cultivate patience, empathy, compassion, and grace — for yourself and for others?