Category — flashbacks
Almost four years ago, I sat on a hard wooden pew in a plain black dress, weeping as a Mormon pastor charged us to be better, not bitter in the face of tragic young death. I had no idea as I sat there that my life had only begun to unravel; that I would come to view this time as the beginning of years worth of endings, the proverbial loose string. It’s painfully apparent in hindsight, but isn’t nearly everything?
This calling to choose betterment over bitterness is the only thing I remember from the entire sermon, but it colored my approach to nearly every ending I encountered over that four years, and lo, there were many. Sadly, all my grief and loss still pale in the shadow of my sister’s emotional Mount Everest, and she works tirelessly at better, not bitter with a fierceness that is breathtaking and awe-inspiring.
Letting go of bitterness in the face of loss is difficult. It’s a decision you make once an hour, sometimes. That’s where better comes in; bitterness tells us there’s a loss that needs honoring, you can’t loosen your grip on bitterness without something else to reach for. Better isn’t about getting over it or rising above it. Those things only happen when you’re working at being better at something rewarding and constructive.
Even then, sometimes bitterness will jump up and smack you in the face at the strangest times, leaving a stinging reminder of what was lost. That old tired pain brought fresh again. You wonder if the scar ever heals, and no, I don’t think it does. I think some hurt just never disappears, but you fill in that space well enough that you only notice when the edges get raw. Sometimes you have to let bitterness sit in the corner and sulk until she gets bored and goes home, so you can choose better again tomorrow.
Bitterness can inspire betterment, but only from the perspective that it reminds us of our impermanence and gives us a sense of urgency and a desire for redemption. Bitterness itself is too easily spent to motivate any permanent bettering. It can only remind us to reach forward instead of looking back.
It’s natural to pour over things, to ruminate over the significance of every decision and detail, looking for some cosmic reasoning, some lesson, some meaning, but there are no answers there. They may come later, if there are any, and sometimes there just aren’t.
Choosing to be better means allowing hope, something to wish for, something to relish and cherish, and yes, risk losing or failing. Bitterness refuses to be fooled again by happiness or joy. Better seeks to create those very things by its own virtue rather than living without them, while bitterness only sees another attempt at mockery. Perhaps rightfully so, but to choose it is only furthering tragedy.
So, four years later, we are better. We are stronger, more accomplished, better practiced. Choosing better, not bitter is easier, and when the ghosts come to call in the predawn hours, sometimes we manage not to answer the door. Sometimes we have them in for drinks, but we’re better, not perfect.
April 12, 2013 No Comments