Sometimes everything is big all at once.
Big is a word we discourage in workshops. Big is vague. In order to write something that connects to other people we need to be more specific. But sometimes big is the only word because it is big enough to contain all of the definitions. It can be all ways of being big at once.
Last night I had a dream about a tornado. We piled into the basement. It was us, some friends from New Jersey, Bernie Sanders wrapped in a wool plaid blanket, and a few women in their 70s (who were strangers to me) in tweed jackets and mock turtle necks. Someone lined the stairs to the basement with couch cushions, so we all slid down to safety. The mood was pleasantly anticipatory, jocular. We were in the basement. We knew we were safe. The basement had windows on and near the ceiling, so at first we were thrilled that we could watch the funnels, multiple funnels, joining and dispersing like tendrils unfurling. At some point I looked up and the clouds were in a perfect ribbon candy formation, variegated grays and whites.
I know. "No one wants to hear what you've dreamt about unless you've dreamt about them." I'm sorry.
But just as the largest funnel was nearing we realized it was filled with water. It brought with it a flood. We all turned our backs to it in unison just as the water came bearing down on the windows. I remember thinking that we probably wouldn't survive it, so I was going to try to enjoy the swim while I could. I felt bad for the ladies and their bulky, absorbent jackets.
This week two projects I've been working on for many years — one for five and one for eight — each met an important milestone, not a resolution but some degree of essential closure. I'm about to move on from some parts of my life that have taken it out of me, personally and professionally. I'm about to start new creative projects that are entirely new directions. Sometimes the things are so big that the only option is to wait inside them, to wait and watch, because the things themselves take up all available room and there's really no action possible.
Tonight I swam in Lake Michigan as the sun set. The water's the highest it's been in twenty years. The beach is spare. The sky fell from pink to gray to black. Lightning struck the horizon. I couldn't bring myself to get out of the water. I knew the risk. I was compelled to enjoy the swim while I could. After the second strike I emerged to sit on a log, eat cookies, and reminisce about seeing Neil Diamond at Pine Knob when I was in the seventh grade. Earlier in the evening I'd actually thought, "I sure hope I have time enough to bake these cookies before we leave for the beach," and then thought, "I can't even begin to imagine what I ever did to deserve this life." I thought that again, about the life, when I was in the water, and then again on the log. We watched the storm move northward, channels of lightning crawling along the horizon line. The skies waited to open up on us until we were under a tree canopy and almost to the car.
Tomorrow we bury a friend. We've grieved for six months and now we will bury him. I've underestimated ritual in the past. I'm not sure I have much faith in it tonight, on this watching and waiting side of it. Maybe on the remembering side of it I will feel some closure, some resolution that death is a thing I no longer feel I'm inside. Maybe we'll buy donuts on the way to the cemetery. Maybe we'll play dice or go back to the beach in the evening.
Maybe we'll keep all the options available to us at once, and a thing will happen, or a lot of things, and we'll make plans. We won't survive all of it, but we're definitely going to swim.