There is a strange and terrible thing that happens when you are in the middle of a personal tragedy.
It could be something as publicly world-shattering as a death near and dear to your heart. Something as invisible to others as a severe depression. Something as simple (and complicated) as coming out of denial and facing, head-on, a terrible reality like a drinking problem or a family estrangement.
And in that tragedy your life feels forever changed. The scope of it knocks you over like a punch in the gut every time it crosses your mind. And, of course, you can’t make it stop crossing your mind. So you end each day feeling bloodied and bruised from so many mental gut punches and start each day feeling barely able to soldier on.
Which is when you realize that while your life has come to a full stop, while your breath is still caught in your chest, the rest of the world is speeding along as if nothing happened. The snow is melting into spring. The church bells still ring every hour, waking anyone within a five-mile radius. The trains are running. The government is knocking on the door to collect an outstanding tax. Eventually, even your own body betrays you and gives into its needs for sleep and food, which haven’t stopped either.
It feels so wrong.
Because the scope of the tragedy feels like it should shake the earth to its core. Doesn’t such a powerful loss deserve at least a moment of silence, a breathless pause in the earth’s orbit?
And yet it spins on, with just a handful of people—or maybe even just one—taking moment after moment of silence, trying to find a way to build up our tolerance for gut-punching realities.
A few weeks ago, my dearest friend here in Switzerland lost the love of her life. A good man. A man with whom she’d been looking at charming country houses, talking about settling in, thinking about the future.
It was a beautiful, blue-sky day full of sunshine and crisp winter air when he speed-flew off the cliffs and through the air. It was a freak accident, a failure of equipment, that collapsed his parachute and changed her life forever.
And so the world ended and began. Stopped. Broke. Changed.
Yet, still it went on. Friends went into work. Arrangements were made for tributes and funerals and heartbreaking goodbyes. The days grew longer. The pub still filled with rowdy sportsmen. Sometimes we cried. Sometimes we laughed, shaking our heads at our own audacity.
At first, the movement feels so wrong, so unnatural. But eventually you recognize it for what it is:
The momentum to push you forward when you can barely take another step, when your breath is ever caught in your chest. Life saying to you that it is still present, still for the taking, still demanding that you live it, still short, still offering you the beautiful and difficult.
Still moving you forward.
And as you move forward, in tiny measures, it becomes, little by little, easier to breathe.