After-shock, I suppose you might call it. Looking around at my home and garden and realising the extent of loss and going into shock and denial. There are times when I still wish I could feel numb and comfortable for a while, but that is not going to happen.
So I just carry on with work and talk to friends about my sadness and dread and try to stay open and receptive to the vagaries of the future. It rained during the night and the house is dark and cool, filled with the smell of wet leaves and damp earth. At night I have dreams about being homeless, the same disorieting kind of dream that I used to have in my 20s when I was staying in rented accommodation and trying to finish post-grad work. Back then I always thought I might be rescued, that somebody would help me. But in reality my friends just share my feelings of sadness and helplessness and that is enough for me. There are not many choices and I just have to make the best of a bad situation. What does help is to be free of those bitter vengeful feelings I had while drinking, that inherent rage arising from feelings of entitlement, ‘This can’t happen to me’.
Because anything can happen to anyone of us. A cancer diagnosis, a child overdosing, a bomb ripping apart a beloved city, a partner being unfaithful, a job loss, a sober partner drinking, a car accident, a devastating earthquake, the outbreak of war, a torn finger nail. And sometimes the only choice we have is how we choose to respond: with courage and hope, or with fear and avoidance.
When I was 16 I was walking down a street in what is now Harare but was then the colonial city of Salisbury, with wide avenues and uniformed policemen and lovely old jacaranda and flamboyant trees shading the pavements. A bomb went off in a large general store behind me and I was thrown across the pavement. For a few moments I couldn’t understand what had happened, then I realised I had been cut by flying glass. The ground was shaking and there were clouds of dust everywhere. My arms and legs were bleeding. My initial reaction was rage, then terror. It felt as if my world had ended. Then I saw a woman trying to revive a small child some distance away and I crawled over to help her and life began to take on shape and meaning again. Our only purpose in life is shared purpose, the meaning we create together from love and understanding of a greater meaning somewhere just beyond our human reach, something that outlives us and endures through human history. As an elderly Catholic priest once said to me: ‘The Bible would mean nothing if there was nobody there to live it.‘
“Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends – this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.” — Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 89