“Mother is a word we use for an angel with wings of love.” Apollo M
After watching an arresting movie last night, Nomadland, which left me feeling hollow and hallowed, I laid down with these intimate notions who spooned me as I dreamt, they were still with me in the early morning when the dew was fresh, and the light sublime.
Hollow and hallowed are strange bedfellows but as I see it people can both struggle and remain upbeat simultaneously, “through even the most soul-testing of challenges,” says Jessica Bruder.
I’ve spent time with these emotions, especially after the death of my parents, I was completely wrecked, but somehow comforted by a community who rallied around me as if numbers on a clock, reminding me minute by minute that I am not alone, that I am loved, that I can allow joy to spend time with my sorrow without feeling like a traitor.
“I don’t ever say a final goodbye. I always just say, “I’ll see you down the road,” Bob Wells.
It was much the same when my sister struggled through the unexpected loss of her husband, I watched family and friends move in, uninvited, we boarded her ailing vessel until the skin of our arms brushed up against one another, and although nothing can relieve this sort of pain, we rode those damn rapids together, and believe me when I say it was a class five river.
The most daring thing we do with our lives is create community, this is our Great Barrier Reef against the waves of loneliness that can wash over us as if a tsunami in times of despair but also when life is jubilant. It’s a risk, you could be rejected, and if I were honest I believe that is my deepest and most profound fear.
The premise of the movie Nomadland has to do with choiceless choices because often we are forced to make important decisions in the throws of acute grief. We don’t always participate in the circumstances that we find ourselves in, as in loss of a loved one, a marriage, job, friendship, pet, health, even our integrity. Grief shows up without solicitation, it lingers like the smell of cologne on a borrowed jacket, the soundless cry in the back of ones mind, estranged in the same body.
Having experience in each of these areas I can empathize with the loss of a loved one, a fraught marriage (we all have our rocky moments), the ending of a job or career, a friendship that went south, a beloved dog that died, the ache of arthritic joints, and the loss of integrity that can springboard off any of these deprivations. A poverty of spirit and hopelessness sets in especially when we’re anchored emotionally and financially to the past.
It’s the people who show up in times of crisis that give us hope, the person who has the courage to sit with you in the darkness, not shedding light, or speaking of their own loss. “The greatest gifts of all create space for the greatest sacrifices imaginable. For if we simply receive something that does not press us to give something in return, we will die fat with possessions but starved of meaning,” says Craig D. Lounsbrough.
Love is a wonderful feeling but the most basic form of love is action.
For me a hero doesn’t jump tall building or wear flashy capes, their superpower lies in their ability to be present, someone who honors relationship over selfish desires, these are our first responders when tragedy hits. You know who you are and I thank you.
I remember when I was just a young girl, maybe four or five years old. I was at the park with my mom. I decided to jump on the merry-go-round with the older kids but they didn’t want me to join in. I got one leg over the bar when the kids started to push the merry go round faster and faster. I had to hop on one leg, or get thrown to the ground and stomped on by the mean girls. I was panicked. Just when I thought I was losing my grip, the merry-go-round came to an abrupt halt. I turned around and found my mama grasping the bars with both hands, dragging her body across the rough gravel, using all her strength to stop the momentum, so I could get off safely. I remember her bloody knees, her dignified anger, the way she stared down those mean girls until I was safely off that contraption and in her arms. I witnessed sacrificial love that day, I watched my Mama become a warrior woman, and it changed everything.*
The woman in this movie, Fern, decides to take her life on the road after the loss of her husband, her career, even the town she lived in had died. She started following a group of nomads around the country as they vied for seasonal work, as if modern-day migrants, “many of the workers I met in the Amazon camps were part of a demographic that in recent years has grown with alarming speed: downwardly mobile older Americans,” observes Jessica Bruder.
Of course, this made me think about my sister and my Mom, both widowed at young ages, both struggled to figure out how to live alone in a world designed for duos, but fortunately they were anchored by homes and financial stability. For this, I am ever so grateful. According to 2015 census figures, among older women living alone, more than one in six are living below the poverty line. I am enormously happy my sister remains seven minutes from door to door, not wheel to wheel.
Jessica Bruder says, “there is hope on the road. It’s a by-product of forward momentum. A sense of opportunity, as wide as the country itself. A bone-deep conviction that something better will come.” According to The New York Times Magazine living in a van or vandwelling is fashionable.
The things we will do to escape from empty futures are as vast and creative as our human capacity to envision an alternative fate. You know what I mean?
Life on the road is physically taxing, the living space is claustrophobic, driving long distances can be challenging especially when you’re alone, and the gas is expensive. But there is something appealing about the open road, stopping on a whim, taking time to really see this country up close, and enjoying the eccentric community of nomads you encounter along the way.
“Bleary-eyed, they find places to pull off the road and rest. In Walmart parking lots. On quiet suburban streets. At truck stops, amid the lullaby of idling engines. Then in the early morning hours—before anyone notices—they’re back on the highway. Driving on, they’re secure in this knowledge: The last free place in America is a parking spot.” Jessica Bruder
As I opened my bleary-eyes this morning, spooned between hollow and hallowed, I’m transfixed by the window framing my view of the patio, twinkling in the morning sun is a divine set of angel wings.
I whisper, “I’ll see you down the road Mama.”
- “We’re facing the first-ever reversal in retirement security in modern U.S. history,” she explained. “Starting with the younger baby boomers, each successive generation is now doing worse than previous generations in terms of their ability to retire without seeing a drop in living standards.” Jessica Bruder
- “It’s strange. How hollow i feel. Like there might be echoes inside of me. Like I’m one of those chocolate rabbits they used to sell around Easter, the ones that were nothing more than a sweet shell encapsulating a world of nothing. I’m like that. I encapsulate a world of nothing.” Tahereh Mafi
- “I’ve learned that sometimes, when you’re afraid but you keep on moving forward, that’s the biggest kind of courage there is.” Cynthia Hand
- * Merry-Go-Round, an excerpt from Living in the Gap.