I have been thinking a lot about life and death lately. Not only in the physical sense, but in the metaphysical sense, too.
When I was a nurse working in the I.C.U., one of the most challenging aspects of that work was living in close proximity to the transition, or “gap” between life and death on a daily basis. It was the first time I learned about the purpose of the coma, that fugue state of motionlessness often induced to help our bodies heal and recover. To families, it can be heartbreaking and confusing. Their loved one appears lifeless, hooked up to machines and medicine, unresponsive to touch or voice. They seem to be “gone” yet their heart continues to beat. Their body continues to exist in a place that’s not quite fully alive, yet not deceased, either. Sometimes a patient revives from a coma and begins to recover. Sometimes they pass on, leaving their physical bodies behind.
The coma signifies the state of unknowing, of uncertainty ripe with silence.
During the same time I was confronting the physical realities of life and death and the moments in-between as a new nurse, I was also going through a spiritual life and death in my personal life. Six months before I graduated from nursing school (seven years ago), I was faced with a major death experience beyond my control. I was 21, a senior in college on the brink of beginning a new chapter when suddenly all of my foundations disappeared. Over the course of a few short months, my parents separated for the final time, the only home I had known and grown up in caught on fire and was badly ruined, and my grandmother and father were both hospitalized with sudden illness.
Abruptly, everything I thought I knew or understood about my life up until that point was no longer dependable. It was a deeply terrifying and painful time.
Miraculously, throughout that season of destruction and the deafening silence that echoed in its aftermath, I was given the hope of new life emerging from the ashes. It was by grace alone that I was given this promise of transformation, and by grace alone that I believed in its soft whisper during the darkest times.
Yet. What do you do when you are in the midst of the grief and the loss? When the death is complete but the promise of the resurrection has yet to be revealed? When you are in the gap of nothing-ness? Where there is neither the old and familiar to rely on, neither the new that has yet to become?
I don’t remember very much about the first few years after the loss of my home and family. It is a blur of survival and crawling on elbows and knees from out of the thick smoke that seemed to obscure everything. It is a faint memory of pain and numbing taking turns on our bodies and soul. It is evidence of Divine love protecting and offering us hope while we lived through the days and weeks and months of the agony of being in the gap.
Being in the gap is more than transition. It is the still-point. The void. The absence full of mystery.
“Being “in the gap” can be disorienting and even scary. Nothing to hold on to, no sense of direction, not even a hint of what choices and possibilities might lie ahead.” -Osho
Life is generous with its lessons. Two years ago around this exact time in April, I went through another personal “death” that I shared with you on this blog. Within a few weeks, all of the carefully made plans I had crafted for the next several months evaporated unexpectedly. Suddenly, I found myself in France with no clue what to do or where to go next. I felt betrayed, scared, and shaken. I felt vulnerable and stripped bare.
A couple on Super Soul Sunday tenderly described their experience with being in the gap after the loss of their son in the tragedy of Sandy Hook in this way: It is like, “Breaking open into the mystery,” and “Making your heart bigger than the loss.”
Breaking open without apology for the falling apart. Allowing the fullness of the mystery contained within the emptiness of the void to transform you in its own perfect timing. Letting yourself be protected and held by love and grace while crawling on bloodied knees through the smoke.
I know from personal experience that death is necessary. Whether it’s the physical passing away of someone we love, the end of a relationship, or the loss of who we once were. Death is a gift, an opportunity to re-build and renew. To resurrect and revive.
What eventually emerged from the destruction of my home and family several years later was a home no longer bound by a physical place. It was a family that is healthier and stronger than we ever were before. It is a family that continues to honor each other with our commitment to a love that is unconditional. It is a journey of healing and transformation we take step by step, together.
The unfolding of my life after being in the gap two years ago in France was also a gift. It led to something I could have never imagined before experiencing the loss of my own plans and hopes. It led to me returning home to spend a year in Nashville with both of my sisters, a year I look back on as one of the best years of my life.
Yet, there was a period before the path revealed itself. There was an uncomfortable and painful pause. A waiting. A listening. A clearing of attachment to any outcome. A steadying of spirit. A sitting still. A faint hope of what was yet to come.
I sat still on this hill every day for two weeks, waiting. Listening. Full of unequal parts despair and hope.
Luzy, France 2014
In some ways, I feel like I am at the beginning again, back to square one. What I’ve been going through lately is not as extreme as what my family went through seven years ago. It’s not quite as jarring as two years ago. Still, I have experienced several “deaths” in the past few months that have left me with the same shaken up feeling of questioning what I once believed to be true. My foundations are unsteady. There is grief and there is loss. There is uncertainty and stinging eyes.
I hate being in the gap. I fight it every single time. I want to leap across the chasm before I’m given the wings and the strength to fly. I want to stare into the light while my eyes are still bleary from the fog. I want to see evidence of the blooming flower while the ashes are falling and the seed is buried underground. I want to know the way through without having to trust so damn much. Without having to hurt so deeply. Without feeling empty of anything to hold onto.
Watching Spring unfold patiently
Buckner, MO 2016
“But it was just this state of pure potential that existed before the universe was created. All you can do now is to relax into this no-thingness…fall into this silence between the words…watch this gap between the outgoing and incoming breath. And treasure each empty moment of the experience. Something sacred is about to be born.” – Osho
The pause. The stillness. The void. Being in the gap. One breath and one moment at a time, while our path reveals itself, it is okay to wait. To not yet see clearly. To not have all the answers. To let grace work on our behalf. To rest. To hold onto nothing but this hope and prayer,
“Allow us to sit at the edge of the cliff for as long as we need to before we can move forward. Keep us from hurrying the process, knowing that it is in our readiness for leaping that we gain our sovereignty.” -Pixie LighthorseGoogle+