I don’t know where I heard this metaphor about grief — that it’s like a ball in a box with a button inside. When loss is fresh and raw, it’s as if the ball and box are nearly the same size, so the button gets punched with almost every movement and jostle, each time triggering a whole complexity of emotions.
As time goes on and feelings get processed through familiarity into something like “normalcy,” the box gets a bit bigger. There are still balls of hurt inside, and triggering buttons, but because the box is roomier, the ball doesn’t nail those buttons quite so often. When it does happen to hit, the emotions can be as intense as ever, but gradually it becomes less frequent. Because it’s less frequent, when it occurs, it can be totally unexpected. We think we’re getting along just fine when a button gets pushed, seemingly out of nowhere, by some random event or thought, by the ball of feeling we’d almost forgotten we were carrying.
This description of grief feels pretty perfect to me — the way that it tends to become less predominant and consuming, but how it never really goes away. And how the ball-button-bounce can always trigger feelings as intense as ever, even as they become less constant.
It occurs to me that this is an apt and useful conception not just of grief, but of all feelings, all matters of identity, all experiences, all of our beliefs, and the meanings we make up about ourselves and others, about the world and God…
With time, hopefully, we create ever bigger boxes to hold all that we know ourselves to be.
We still have triggers. We still have wounds, grudges and stories. These may or may not evolve or soften over time; that may not even be the point. What’s important, what’s healing, is the expansion of our boxes.
We can give ourselves wiggle room — room to maneuver, room to see life from multifarious angles. We can give ourselves room to know that whatever buttons might be getting pushed at any particular moment, they aren’t the whole picture. In fact, if we’re intentionally expanding the boxes of our being, every button and trigger can become another reminder of our boundless capacity, our vastness, our greatness.
Last week, at Bosque Center for Spiritual Living’s town hall meeting, people shared about why spiritual community is important, from their own experiences. One theme that emerged was the value of being with “like-minded” people, which speaks to the sense of belonging that most of us crave. At the same time, though, people also talked about one of our community’s strengths being its non-dogmatic approach — that we explore beliefs in a way that is pretty darned free from anything like indoctrination.
We can celebrate like-mindedness at the same time that we honor how different our minds are, how differently we think, and what we think about. This is really powerful. And I believe that it’s a testament to the ever-larger container that we’re creating intentionally for ourselves and each other. It is our inclusivity. It’s wiggle room.
The Fourth of July holiday always brings up for me considerations of independence and interdependence, personal freedom as well as our deep, abiding connectedness and mutual responsibility.
Remembering and nurturing both individualism and belonging necessitates that we become ever-bigger boxes, boxes that can hold all that I am and all that you are, all that we’ve been and all that we are becoming. We might say, of course, that the ultimate goal is to leap outside all these boxes altogether, and I do imagine that’s where it’s heading eventually. We are, after all, Everything in the end.
But for now, though, there’s so much that we can do, create, and be together in the boxes of these particular lives, in time and space. There’s so much we can do, create, and be as the fullness of ourselves, rich in experience and heartache and hope. There’s so much we can do, create, and be together as we make safe space for each other to share.
Welcome to our wiggle room, now with extra wiggle.
© 2019 Drew Groves