I moved away from the coast almost two years ago. Sold the home that was a stone’s throw and a short bike ride from the ocean. I left the spot that hurricanes seemed most drawn to, moved far away, deep inland and still the hurricane found us.
Despite her drab name, Florence was a heaving, breathing, fuming monster. She was expected to hit our coast as a Category 4. The last time I had experience with a storm of that magnitude was Matthew in 2016.
Matthew was set to be a direct hit for the tiny beachside town I lived in. As seasoned hurricane professionals, my husband and I made the agonizing decision to stay. It wasn’t a decision made lightly and, in some respects, it was a decision we had no choice but to make. Matthew was such a devastating storm, evacuees clogged the highways leaving the sunshine state. I-95 was essentially a parking lot.
Weighing our risks, staying in a well built home with shutters seemed the safest option. That choice was not made without consequence. Our guilt weighed heavy upon us, thinking of our young son and the potential threat to his safety. At the last minute Matthew turned and, instead of a direct hit to our town, hugged the coast all the way up through South Carolina before turning out to sea.
As sometimes hurricanes do, Florence changed as well. Her path remained true, set for North Carolina, but she was downgraded to a Category 1 before making landfall. The power she gave up, though, only fed her persistence. She slowed to a crawl and made her way across the state slower than cold molasses, soaking every inch beneath her with record rainfall.
What was supposed to be a couple of days without power for us, ended up being four days of a bit of wind and an excess of waiting. Eventually she came over us and soaked us to the bone. I can still hear her rain dropping over the clicking of my keys as I write this. We were lucky to never lose power and only be inconvenienced with a soggy yard.
When all the good hurricane snacks had been consumed and I tired of watching The Weather Channel and their sometimes melodramatic reports and had nothing left to do but wait her out, I retreated to my room to watch The Power of Myth on Netflix.
For those of you not familiar with Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth, go flog yourselves with a wet noodle until you’ve knocked some sense into that brain of yours. Then, go read up about him and watch the Bill Moyers series on Netflix as soon as you’re done with the self flagellation.
Having spent every Sunday of my life tied to a church pew in order to fill my duty as the good Catholic my parents insisted I be, finding The Power of Myth as a young woman changed my life. It allowed me to see beyond the burden I felt was imposed upon me and look at the deeper meaning in Catholicism. It saved me a lifetime of guilt when I walked away and chose to live a life without religion, a life I had previously been convinced would lead to my soul’s downfall. It freed me and opened my mind.
Watching it this time was like rereading a favorite book. I knew all the plot twists. Nothing blew my mind like the first time. Instead it was like climbing into the warmest blanket on the coldest day and savoring the warmth. It was bliss, pure and true.
As I listened to the patter of rain on my window I watched the joy on the faces of both Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell as they walked through the common vein all religions share. Their smiles are ones that can only be had when revealing the brilliance that we are all tied together through a fantastic web of shared hopes, dreams, and goals. We all experience life in similar ways and we all need myths to help us make sense of those experiences.
And the thing about life is, no matter what religion we follow, no matter how strictly we follow it in the hopes of leading a carefree life, one will never achieve that because life is inherently fraught with chaos. The beauty of Joseph Campbell is, he sees the joy in chaos. As he puts it so perfectly, with a smile on his face, life is “a wonderful, wonderful opera except that it hurts.” I certainly can’t think of a better way to sum this whole mess up.
Life hurts. Mine definitely has at times, this tumor being only one of those times. But, like Florence, my hurt can be persistent. I’ve found mourning this tumor, this unpredictable and relentless illness, an easy task (I’ve written about it here). I’m familiar with the cathartic and curative cleanse of tears. A little too familiar at times. And, if there’s one thing I’ve learned along the way, familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt. If you let it, familiarity can breed contentment, contentment with familiarity, and complacency is not what we’re here for.
Beyond tears, over the wall of heaves and sobs and wail, there is the other side of mourning. The opera hurts, but it is beautiful nonetheless. There is gratitude for lessons learned. There is thankfulness for the good that remains. There is appreciation for strength and resolve. There is acknowledgment for being opened to a new mode of thought, a broader emotional vocabulary.
I am new. I am reborn with each death whether that death is literal or metaphorical. I have learned. I have grown. I recognize I am whole, even if, perhaps especially if, I have been broken.
There is another side to mourning and it is beautiful and, sadly, sometimes brief. But it is there. When you’re ready, close your eyes and look. There is a space beyond loss. As Joseph Campbell notes, life is always beautiful even when it hurts.
*Featured image courtesy of Pixabay