Having just praised the benefits of ordering one’s world, organizing your things, your thoughts, putting your feelings into some coherent container, now I suggest the opposite. Open yourself to the possibility of opening the floodgates of deep joy and sorrow, unbearable grief and inexpressible happiness and let it flow.
I’ve often recommended Camus’s “Live close to tears,” but that’s so tame compared to body-shaking weeping. It might be a necessary first step, tiptoeing toward some hidden heartache that you’d really rather not wake up, but at no appointed schedule, that anguish—or ecstatic bliss—leaps out and takes you over. Your body shudders from head to toe, you heave up deep sobs and you look bad. This is not something you want anyone to witness, unless they’re deep down into it with you.
And that’s what happened to me today. I’ve been wrestling with finding some proper way to close out my life at a place that never was just a school to me, but a crystalized version of the vision I’ve carried my whole life (and I have the journal entries to prove it!). Things were lined up for the final cadence with the usual farewell ceremonies, but all of that was thrown under the bus by a little bug. “Oh well, something will happen in the Fall” didn’t quite make the grade, so I organized my own little ceremony with the alums I’m singing with online (see Retirement Speech) and that helped a little. But the emotion I expected to come from my little talk was more a trickle than the enormous wave it deserved.
So today, I decided to put together a little slide show drawing from one I put together for the school’s 50thAnniversary 4 years ago. I just happened to notice that a lot of the photos from that collection happened to be of the people who were attending this alum sing. So I made a new folder and thought a song might go well with it and settled on Judy Collin’s version of In My Life. As I clicked through the photos with the song playing, many of them old black and white photos that carry a certain mythological dimension, the tsunami arrived. I wept and I wept and then I wept some more.
And that is precisely what I needed to do. It was the proper response to the unfathomable gratitude that I got to live the life I led at the school with these ordinary and extraordinary human beings and likewise the proper acknowledgement of loss, of mourning for something that is now gone. Not just because I’m leaving, but to be honest, because the whole nature of the school is tainted by the world outside that insists on rules and procedures and protocols and legal constraints with no place for intuition, faith, imagination, nuance. Each one by itself makes sense, but the combined effect of it all is to choke that simple faith that grew the school I have known and loved—feeling our way through the dark with bold risk, spectacular failures, heartfelt forgiveness. I’ve been denying that this is so because inside each classroom, the magic ingredients are still there to create the world as it should be. But the thorns are growing around the castle and some of the beauty is being bewitched into sleep.
And now, instead of talking about fixing it, the convulsive sobs of grief and gratitude said precisely what needs to be said. Which is there is nothing to be done. Just feel it. Wholly. Fully. Don’t hold back. Let it come. And damn, didn’t that feel good!
So that’s my report. I can’t program anyone else (or myself) to grieve, can’t mandate it, can’t charge people money for my seminar. All I can do is say that living close to tears is much better than banishing your sorrows to the basement and putting on a happy face. But letting the wave of sorrow and joy wash over your whole body—even if once a month, or once a year, or heck, once a lifetime!— is an enormous step to the healing—personal, political, cultural—that we desperately need. Try it.