I thought of you today; well, I think of you most every day, but I thought about you longer today. I was walking the dog, a time I would often reach for the phone to catch up with you because I knew I would be largely uninterrupted for at least half an hour. Instead of calling anyone, I was listening to a podcast of This American Life. The episode was an old one that I’d had on my phone since right before some plane flight.
The story they were sharing took place in Japan, near where the tsunami and earthquake did so much damage a few years ago. In response to his grief at losing a family member, one man had put a phone booth, an old British style one, in his garden. It wasn’t hooked up to anything, and had an old rotary phone inside. He would use it as a space to reach out to his loved one, a space to share developments big and small, a space to grieve completely, to surrender to the loss. The interesting part of the story is that word got out about the phone booth and soon people started coming to use the phone booth to call their own loved ones, people who’d died in the tragedy or have never been found and are presumed dead at this point. People began making pilgrimages with their entire family so everyone, even those who had never expressed any grief at all, had a chance to use the phone booth, to connect with their loved one, to surrender completely to their grief in a space designated just for that, a safe and small space away from everything else.
I wept as I listened to the story because I thought of everything I’d like to tell you. I wept as I listened because I know so many people would tell me to just say them, that you will hear it. I wept as I heard you laugh and say: “Awww Jules” in my head, the way you always did when you were startled by how much I love you. I wept because I miss you. And I wept because I need a phone booth.
The thing about grief is that in a funny way it’s easiest at first, when it overwhelms you and you have no choice but to surrender and everyone is expecting you to do just that. It feels awful, but there’s no pretense, no waiting for the right time, no pushing it aside in favor of a to do list that will not wait. It gets trickier as the feelings ease just a little. It gets trickier when we have a choice, when the wave of grief is no longer bowling us over but bumping into us and retreating, when we realize that life is trudging forward and feel compelled to participate. But it’s still there. It’s still needing us. It’s still working at us. It’s still part of the accumulation of things that hurt and stress and force us to grow. And yet, we don’t find it necessary to surrender anymore. “It’s getting better,” which really means: “I can turn it off most of the time when I want to.”
This is the time we need the phone booth, a safe and sacred space, a space just for this, just for surrender, just for reaching out to our loved ones, to those we’ve lost, to those who we presume gone forever. A place to whisper what’s in our hearts, and to hear them talk back, like I heard you today Dad. I would have preferred that in a phone booth in my garden rather than on the mud streaked road while I walked the dog through the neighborhood. I would have preferred to be still so I could soak in your laugh and your voice so they could sustain me until my next call to you.
So I guess I have some homework Dad. I need to make a space. And I need to make time, which means I need to say No to some things, the task I continue to re-learn and practice. I think I have a friend who will know just how to make our space, my phone booth. I’ll talk to her about it tomorrow so I can call you soon.