A few days ago, my dear friend and I went to Grenfell Tower. She frequently makes this pilgrimage from her home nearby to speak the names of those who perished on that awful night. For me, as an infrequent visitor to London, it was the first time I had set eyes on the blackened building. We walked the surrounding streets, past the church which hasn’t closed its doors since the fire broke out, bedecked with yellow ribbons, knitted yellow hearts, photographs of the missing and dead, teddy bears, and handwritten cards and messages. Further along there are other areas, patches of ground and walls bearing flowers, candles, images, and words, so many words of anguish, outrage, sympathy, shock, condolence, grief, and love. Most of all, love. It was the messages from the fire-fighters, hand-written on their London Fire Brigade t-shirts, which really got me. The scene is, of course, utterly overwhelming. How could it not be?
Over the last few months, the suffering of others has been palpable and present within my awareness, as I’m sure it has been for many of us. In the United Kingdom alone, we have seen yet more indiscriminate terror attacks. We have witnessed the callousness and cruelty of some of our politicians, not least those who voted against a 1% pay rise for public sector workers mere days after those same heartbroken fire-fighters had risked their lives to save others. Some days it has felt as if there is no end to the pain and suffering that humanity inflicts upon itself and the earth. I have found myself either trying to switch off or bracing against more bad news; every time I go online or see a news headline, there’s a momentary intake of breath and a sense of what now?
For some weeks now, I have also been aware of a ball of tightness in my chest, a very familiar, oppressive sensation that seems to preclude real joy or expression. I have found myself unable to write, share, speak, or act with fluidity or ease. Mostly, I’ve stayed silent. I have inquired, of course. I have seen the self who worries, the little girl who worried about everything. I have connected with a deep pattern of trying to please others, a belief that somehow I don’t matter. Questions have arisen; can I be okay if others aren’t? Throughout all of this, the sensation in my chest has remained. Today, it was time to take another look.
As I connected with the sensation, the words I’m in mourning arose. Yes, my body replied, and the sobbing began. I looked at images of politicians, and wept for the mess we have got ourselves into – for wars, poverty, starvation, homelessness. I looked at images of people drowning in the ocean as they flee their homelands in terror. What have we become? I sensed our collective denial – our daily, catastrophic denial – and my own personal denial. As I looked, I was moved to finally listen to the Artists for Grenfell version of Bridge Over Troubled Water. I have put off listening to it before now because I knew – consciously or not – what would happen when I did. The weeping continued unabated for some time. Music, as we know, can sometimes touch us like little else can.
As my looking continued, it became clear that it is my heart itself that is in mourning. No wonder there’s been a sense of restriction, a limit to the amount of joy or peace I have been able to feel. I asked my heart if it needs or wants anything. The answer was unequivocal; a place to mourn, perhaps a shrine of some kind. And time. Mourning cannot be hurried, a lesson our forebears knew well, and that we seem to have forgotten.
It takes such effort to deny, dull, and numb ourselves, yet the notion there may be a way to avoid feeling this collective grief is a persistent one, even for those of us immersed in inner work. This being human is heartbreaking, and we need to mourn. My sense is that real change (and it feels like we are on the cusp of real change) will not happen until we have truly mourned for humanity’s suffering, each in our own unique way. The heart intimately knows the pain of others, just as it knows we are all one. The heart, beautiful and sensitive, is effortlessly compassionate. And the more we connect with our own grief, the more compassionate and open it becomes. However long this period of mourning lasts, let it begin.