Disclaimer: This post contains images of buildings in varying states of construction and deconstruction that I’ve worked on over the past few years, or passed on the streets, along with photos of a minor human injury, and a major human one. While the images may be upsetting to some, it has not been proven that the buildings experienced pain in any of these situations. Only the humans. If you are ok with exploring insights from these sites and potentially disturbing sights, please read on. If you enjoy these writings for uplifting insights, I kindly recommend waiting for the next piece. This one is about pain.
When I walk past buildings like this one I am fascinated. I am struck seeing these structures torn and mutilated in varying degrees of destruction. I have always seen some kind of beauty in these sculptural marvels in which things are not what they were or should be, suspended only for a moment of time, or longer if plans have gone awry. Wires dangling, walls missing, rooms with formerly safe enclosures are exposed in precarious and dangerous positions. These are temporary states of otherwise permanently appearing places that were once inhabited in conforming ways, and will be again perhaps in some other form or fashion.
Buildings get worn down, run down, and sometimes torn down, but the scars of reconstruction are hidden, hauled away, sanded, plastered over, smoothed out, painted, and sealed. The entanglement of mangled materials and structure are neatly hidden behind shiny facades and clean walls that we keep tidy with mops and dusters. There isn't or shouldn't be a record of the big mess to get to where we are comfortable, in neat and tidy environments.
In 2019, I cut my hand and needed stitches. I wish I had a good story, but it was just a dishwashing accident when a large, sudsy glass bowl dropped into the sink with my hand still holding it. It was the morning of Erev Rosh Hashana, the evening the Jewish New Year starts, and I spent the morning at the ER. I told my parents and my brother about my accident, but it wasn’t top of mind since we were still in shock from Josh’s cancer diagnosis 5 months before. Elie accompanied me to the hospital and we watched and squirmed through the needling and stitching. Thankfully, I didn’t lose movement in my hand from the deep cut, and I have a little Frankenstein scar that reminds me of cutting and of healing. Much like the mangled scenes of construction sites, I look with awe and wonder at this physical memory.
Day 1 stitches, Thank you Dr. Shanti.
Day 2 healing, Thank you body for healing. Before this summer, already over a year since losing Josh, I was in a low part of my grief. It had been nearly a year and a half since he died, and everything around me was fine. My husband was fine, kids were fine, projects were fine, everything neat and tidy and generally fine, except for my obstinate grief that was painful to expose, so I kept it hidden. It didn’t feel like it fit anywhere on the outside anymore and I felt further and further from people close to me. That adage, “time heals”, is no comfort when a wrecking ball demolishes "sibling" midlife from your family structure. Down isn’t down, and up is terrifying because there is no down anymore. There is just sideways. Open. Exposed. Dangling.
Josh’s surgical wound healing in Cleveland, Ohio, 2019 Josh and I must be emotional exhibitionists. I question whether I can still claim him in the present tense, but since his active memory is my creative collaborator I ask you to permit this. We wear our hearts on our sleeves, and guts on the floor. We examine, write, and find ourselves in the curious search. Works in progress. Especially in recent years we’ve faced some grotesque and icky stuff. We sat in wonder, horrified and awestruck when a doctor showed us a scan of the cancer in Josh’s bones. Josh put a photo of his surgical wound in his book. I just showed you the stitches in my hand. In writing this, still, I am trying to stitch myself back together with my brother and our family, like we are still doing it together. What is this fixation of the ugly and gross? If you can see my pain, will it hurt less?
Josh’s prep for surgery and staples after
Ouch. Pain is real. Josh didn’t really complain much about his, which is still remarkable. I cycle through memories of how he acknowledged it and was honest about it, but quickly moved on to what he really cared about and wanted to focus on. Grief pain is real. You can’t see mine if I don’t tell you or show you, but I feel it inside my stomach, cramping pains in my heart. I feel it in my spirit, in my thoughts. In the past 18 months I’ve tried a lot of things with my grief and here is what I have found. Can’t ignore it, can’t push it away, can’t bury it, can’t eat it, can drink a lot but not wash it away. Can make something of it a little bit, can share it, and can look at it for what it is. Can feel it for what it is. Maybe the hardest and best thing to do with it is just be with it, be still, be aware. Don’t try to smooth it over, or make it go away. The best way to comfort someone in pain I have found is to be brave enough to be still, maybe even quiet so the pain being shared can come into the open and materialize. See it for what it is, even if it hurts. Pain can’t be bartered or minimized, painted over or shellacked. I can’t help but feel some shame writing this. Will you be exhausted by me that I am still writing about my grief and pain? Will my loved ones still hold on with me? Am I using up your precious materials, space, and time? As the shame wall takes its shape, I aggressively tear it down. Negative thought patterns arise, I sledgehammer them. Can’t control them, but I can rip them down as they arise and live with the rubble. And openness. Because I’m an emotional exhibitionist I am pretty true to my nature. If I’m feeling it I can’t hide it, even if I try and eventually it shows. And this can be confrontational to those around me. To my surprise, more people than not have met my tears with tears, my vulnerability with space for my vulnerability. This is comforting. Thank you for giving me a safe space for my pain.
Josh held space for me and was a major supporter. I suppose all of this is to build a new framework of support in the void left by his absence. There is such a gaping hole.
The following are photos of construction sites from the past few years that have since been completed. They are now lovely spaces for living and making memories.
This one was demolished in order to be rebuilt.
And this is now a kitchen where delicious meals are prepared.
And this is our new home, now with walls covered in beautiful tiles, wallcovering, and art. The view is taken from the space that once finished was my brother’s room when he lived with us during the later part of his cancer treatment. He has come and gone. And the memories are still created and revisited somewhere hidden deep inside. Whether the pain of grief will be temporary or a suspended entanglement of complexity exposed, I won’t know. For now, I’m just accepting things for what they are, because despite it all, I'm still standing. Half open, half gone. Moment Poem This is a story of building. And rebuilding. And building again.
Don’t be distracted by the rubble and debris,
The destruction in reconstruction is only temporary.