Anxious is not a word I ever would have used to describe myself.
Busy? Always. Stressed? Probably. A planner? Definitely.
But anxious, fearful, and unsettled never used to feel like they fit. Not until this year.
It’s funny, getting older. I say “getting older” as if I’m 35 and starting to grieve my youth slipping through my fingers. I’m 21 but I still feel time slipping like I’m a child at the seashore again, making sandcastles and wrestling with the ocean-soaked sand like I could somehow convince it to stay within my grasp.
When I think back to where I was at a year ago, I remember writing my final thesis for my degree and referencing the pandemic as if it were an event in the past, presuming that by the time I finished my degree a few months later, we’d all laugh at the panic and paranoia we lived in for a little while, chuckle at the sight of masks and hand sanitizer, and forget what it felt like to give people copious amounts of space in public.
The leaves are still clinging to the trees when the first taste of winter teases the autumn sky and a flurry of snowflakes falls to form a soft blanket over the earth.
With my face to the sky drinking everything in, I stand gasping for air as the biting cold burns my lungs and the chill permeates my too-thin sweater for the first time this season. The world is crisp and quiet, the atmosphere soft and lovely, and the snow carries with it a much-needed newness to the places where older things are no longer. It is here where everything begins to change.
This tangible reminder of winter’s arrival is accompanied by a single thought: I haven’t seen snow since the world was normal. And while normalcy still seems far-off, the flakes that land in the folds of my jacket and the rips in my jeans remind me that nothing can stay the same forever.
In this perfect moment, everything is still, and it feels as though time itself has stopped to watch. And like a switch flipping without warning, the snow that once evoked feelings of dread for the impending winter beckons me to hope instead.
For the first time in my life, I am comforted by change.
Early on a Saturday morning, I cradle a mug of coffee in my hands and sit in silence as the world begins to wake up.
The earth is turning cold and the pale blue sky hints at autumn’s arrival, and here I sit — watching the leaves blow outside my window and feeling things churn inside of me.
There is something about October that brings me to mourn, and there is something about this mourning that brings me to my knees. Whether by the change of the seasons or because the world seems to still be spinning slowly, I feel the pangs of loss, and I quietly grieve, telling God all of the things that I miss.
“Do you think you see Jesus as a lifeboat, or a luxury?” My friend and I are driving, slowly picking apart the way we’ve seen Jesus preached in our communities, churches, and young adults groups. “Because sometimes, I think we miss telling people why Jesus is so incredible in the first place.”
It’s a sleepy Sunday afternoon, and she and I are falling into our rhythm of long drives and strong coffees and deep talks, tumbling into deep and hard and holy conversations interspersed with laughter and good stories – my favorite. We’ve both noticed this pattern – Jesus being preached as if He’s a jetpack to make life better, if we want Him.
This is a question I’ve been asking a lot of people lately, curious as to how much this particular condition affects others beyond myself. I define pre-grieving as the act of mourning in advance outcomes that are not guaranteed. Or, in other words, giving a voice to anxiety where it has no place; being sad in advance over a future that may or may not ever come.
More often than not, in response to this question, I hear, “Oh yes. I pre-grieve all the time. I thought I was the only one.”
As I tumble out of bed, I glance at my phone and frown at the time. It’s later than I wanted, but I’m up now. I look at myself in the mirror as I put my hair in a scrunchie on top of my head – the bags under my eyes are beginning to resemble suitcases. I sigh.
My first coherent thought is to brew a cup of coffee, and so I do – the first good cup of coffee I’ve had in three weeks. This morning routine provides me with a small shred of steady familiarity; every sip is reassurance.
From where I sit, I have the perspective of a gnat. I am selfish and spoiled by nature, and I know this. I miss my friends. I miss my life. I miss normal. I miss lunch dates and late-night ice cream runs and Bible studies with my community. I miss road trips. I miss coffee shops. I know people are dying and yet I am a helpless bystander grasping at anything to numb the feeling of powerlessness.
C. S. Lewis wrote that to love is to be vulnerable.
The full quote is a beautiful one. It’s one I’ve held onto for a while, one that reminds me I have to give up safe in order to receive something so much better. But that doesn’t mean vulnerability is easy, by any means. And slowly, I am peeling back the layers of my life to reveal the fear and the imperfection, and I am learning to find joy.