My daughters and I had a pre-Christmas clear out recently, making space for Mr Claus’ impending visit. Lots of bin liners and boxes were filled and eventually we could actually see the carpets again in the girls’ bedrooms. Buoyed by this success, my youngest daughter boldly suggested we reshuffle some furniture. We duly did, moving (heavy) things around until she was satisfied (and coincidently it was all back to where it had started in the first place). ‘What was the point of that?’ I asked her, as I wiped my brow. ‘I just wanted to see what it looked like not normal’ came her reply.
My definition of ‘normal’ has altered fairly dramatically in the last eighteen months. Loss has no respect for normal, you see, or the landscape we so carefully sculpt around it. Grief is an atomic bomb, irrevocably altering the landscape forever and marking everyone in the blast zone for life.
What you are left with is a new normal, which can take some getting used to. This new landscape isn’t as easy to navigate as the old, familiar one. There are pitfalls and mountain peaks. Dark, unknowable caves and deep oceans. Often there is just empty space and wishing.
Time is your companion here. With time holding your hand, you learn to navigate and find your way to the bright spaces, where the sun still shines.
Not every day, certainly, but hopefully often enough.
Loss isn’t the only enemy of normal. All change is a threat to the familiar; a new baby, job, house or partner will all create tremors on your internal Richter scale, pulsing through your status quo and sending existing structures tumbling, even as the foundations for new ones suddenly shoot up.
The trick is to be ready to explore.
I started a new job recently and it feels like everything has changed. The landscape before me is unfamiliar. It is a different position within the same school and so my old normal keeps peeking out from behind newly-formed corners, winking at me slyly as I struggle to catch up to it, beg it to take me back.
I know I can’t, and I know it won’t, but still.
This new landscape is hard going. I don’t know where anything is. Sometimes I feel like I slog up one hill only to meet the crest of the next in the distance. I fall over a lot, lose my footing as the ground shifts beneath me. I have to keep getting up and trying again. It’s not much fun a lot of the time.
The horizon is wider though, that’s for sure. There are far-off lights that glimmer and glint in the moonlight. The sky is higher, brighter. Possibilities buzz like fireflies, darting close enough to fill me with awe as I watch All The Things That Might Be dance before my eyes.
Often, I am too busy looking at my feet to notice the magic that fills up this new place. I realise now that I have been too intent on not falling over, not screwing up and ending upside down in a ditch to really try to explore this new normal.
Well, no more.
If grief teaches us anything, it is that this is all just temporary. Time won’t wait for you to be brave enough to go exploring. It won’t remind you to look under that rock or swim in that lake. It won’t hand you a map and whisper in your ear that the time is right to try something new. If you want to go where you’ve always been, time will let you use up your precious hours and minutes and seconds and then it will cut your strings just the same.
We are here to explore new places, not cower in the familiar. Life is just wandering; sometimes you know where you are going, but mostly you don’t. It’s a process and not one to be taken too seriously.
It is all just finding out.
It is all just learning.
So, here’s the new plan:
Accept that falling over is an inevitable part of the process.
Meet each dead end with a smile and find another path with renewed purpose.
Try to chuckle when you find yourself upside down in a ditch.
Think about your landscape. Are you so familiar with it that you can navigate it with your eyes shut? If so, make this the week you give something a shoogle, or keep walking when you have always turned back before. Go somewhere unfamiliar and get a bit lost. Remember, it is all just finding out, it’s all just about using the time wisely.
And if, like me, you are peeking out of your scurry-hole right now and sniffing new and unfamiliar air, be brave. Step out with confidence. Defy anyone who judges you for falling over- making mistakes is the only way to learn and those around you should respect your efforts or get out of your way.
Enjoy your wander.
And if you hear a shout from a nearby ditch, give me a wave on your way past.