Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in.
Today it is 23 months since Tony took his own life. One year and 11 months ago, I sat on the concrete steps outside our apartment in San Diego. It was the darkest night of the year, both literally and figuratively. In many ways, it was the darkest night of my life. I did not know, truly, how I would survive it. It felt to me like there were no bells to ring. No hope, no light, no life. It was, I thought, the end of everything.
I was wrong.
Nearly two years later, I find myself in a strange place, emotionally speaking. Strange, I say, because I’ve been struggling for weeks to put my finger on what it is that I’m feeling. I keep having the sense that I am cracking open, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. I feel raw and exposed, vulnerable and new. This feeling has coincided with some significant life events – some that are meaningful in a way that I can easily identify, some that I can FEEL are profound although I don’t think I fully understand them just yet.
One is my new career. I am finally doing something I love to do, every day, and getting paid for it. That is huge, and it’s had a remarkable impact on my outlook. For the most part, I wake up excited to work. I am sleeping well and eating well. I feel energetic and intellectually satisfied. I feel creative. It’s the first time in my whole life that I’ve had a job that left me feeling fulfilled.
Another is that I’m starting to achieve the balance I need between the writing that pays my rent and the writing I do for myself. I started outlining a screenplay. I’m finding time for blogging. I’m also making time to read – something I haven’t done as much of as I’d like to since Tony died.
Friendship is another piece of the puzzle. My relationships with the important people in my life feel healthier and deeper than they ever have. I have several friends who have had a knack, in the past 23 months, of reaching out to me with such kindness that it overwhelms me. I’ve reconnected with one of those friends recently, and his kindness got me thinking about kindness in general.
At the beginning of last year, not long after Tony died, I decided to perform acts of kindness on his birthday. I knew I needed to do something that day to keep my mind off the fact that he was not there to celebrate the day, and never would be again. Acts of kindness seemed like a natural thing to do in many ways, because Tony had such a hard time seeing kindness. He was so disappointed, so much of the time, by his life and by the world. On very rare occasions he would have moments when he’d see it, and when he did I used to tease him that he looked like the Grinch after his heart grew three sizes. Imagining him like that makes my heart feel like it’s going to float out of my body, away into the sky. I wish he’d had more of those experiences.
I wrote the other day about how the kindness of the people in my life has sustained me over the past two years. Starting the night that Tony died, I have seen – over and over – how truly kind people can be. The police officers, medical examiner and crisis counselor seem like miracles to me. They gave me the worst news I’d ever heard in a way that makes it possible for me to be grateful to them. The same is true of my co-workers, who held my hand and took me in and made it possible for me to work remotely for 22 months so I could be near my family.
I can hardly find words to talk about the kindness of my family and my friends. They have loved me and buoyed me over and over again. They have had a knack, many of them, for reaching out to me at just the right time. They have written and spoken so many words of grace and love and kindness. I have been cracked open by them again and again.
It is those cracks that have let the light in. It is those cracks that have allowed me to feel the way I do, raw and vulnerable and open and… happy. Yes, that’s the word. I am happy, right now, in a way I haven’t been in a very long time. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss Tony, because of course I do. It doesn’t mean that things are perfect, because that’s just silly. It means that I look at my life – at where I live and who I am and the people I care about – and I feel so overwhelmed with love that I think I might burst.
I didn’t do acts of kindness last year on December 21, because last year that day seemed unremittingly dark. It seemed like a cave – a dark and dank place, dripping with tears. It felt like a grave. This year it doesn’t feel like that. This year, I can look at it and see that as horrible as that date was in 2012, it was also a beginning. It was that day that set me on a path I could not have anticipated. It was the first crack, that day, and now – at last – the light is streaming in.
I hope that wherever you are in the world, you will join me on December 21st. The holidays are an especially hard time for people who struggle with depression. An act of kindness so small that it seems almost inconsequential to you could be exactly the ray of light that someone needs to find the strength to keep going. Kindness is free. Yes, you can do things that cost money if you choose to, but there are plenty of things that you can do that won’t cost a penny. I will post some ideas and pictures over the next month. I hope that if you do plan to participate, you’ll leave me a comment now (I would love to get people on all seven continents) and then let me know, later, what you did and how you felt about it. Let’s turn on the lights.