While we were down in my hometown last week for a wedding, we managed to get out for a few hours one morning to make the drive out to Rockport. If you’ll recall, this little coastal town got the brunt of hurricane Harvey last year. I will never forget sitting in bed at 2am, watching the TV in horror from 1400 miles away as one of my favorite little beach towns was swallowed alive. And all the pictures and videos that came in the days following as they began to assess the damage of a place I hold so dear.
I both wanted and didn’t want to visit Rockport… but I knew I needed to. As we drove the long, straight stretch of single highway out there and hopped the ferry across the channel, I grew emotional at what we might see. As we started to get in to town, my stomach turned in a way I’ve rarely ever felt. Nearly every other house was missing a roof or a wall. The little ice cream shop where Drew and I stopped on our first trip to the beach together was gone. Every one of the big beach shops was empty – nothing but a skeleton of gaping broken floor-to-ceiling windows… all the merchandise and shelving now stripped clean. Boats were still lying in piles on top of one another all about, and mounds of old furniture and refrigerators and twisted up metal roofing and splintered, rotting wood lie at almost every corner.
I think the most shocking thing was on the way out of town… for a mile stretch beside the highway there was just this enormous, ongoing, pile of debris. Hundreds of feet of the remains of people’s lives and livelihoods and memories that could not be put back together. And beside that… about a half dozen enormous incinerators, burning hot flames and eating up all that once was.
It was unlike anything I’d ever seen in my life, yet so like everything I’ve felt before. When grief slammed into my life. All the chaos, all the debris, the knowing that so much of me was destroyed forever. The not knowing what I could salvage of myself. The fear that I didn’t know how I would survive. And then the slow, painful work of sorting through what was left. Turning over each and every piece of me, searching for anything I could salvage and take with me from my old life – from life before my fiance suddenly died… and burning the rest. Even now, I remember, a very real desire to hold onto only what mattered, and burn the rest.
I burned Dallas, in my heart, first. I left it the day he died and I never quite returned, at least not as a resident. Looking back, I suppose it was my way of destroying what hadn’t survived the storm for me… the place we called home. I knew I couldn’t do it. It felt wrong to sit in the wreckage, and I felt his love didn’t want me to. I’ve since been back to visit friends many times. Each time, it gets easier, and I can now visit there with fondness… but I will never return there to live, I know that.
I burned my career next, which wasn’t going much of anywhere good for me anyway. I burned the idea of myself in a cubicle, working 9-5, doing things that didn’t matter to me or even feel like me. Instead, I’ve just wandered, exploring what feels right to me now. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be able to clear the debris in my world in such a drastic way. Not everyone has the circumstances to afford such drastic way of sorting through the wreckage, I realize that. For some of us, it is a slower, more gradual process. We all have a different way of sorting through it all.
I guess this recent visit to Rockport has me realizing what a big believer I am in doing whatever you need to in order to clear the debris… and that taking the time to do so will better every other part of continuing to live your life on. Haul it away, haul yourself away, dig through it, burn it, whatever it takes to gradually clean up the pieces so that you can get on with seeing the other side of this will all be… of who you will become. All in the timing that feels right for you of course, as I’m also a big believer in not pushing that pace.
I don’t want to sound like I’m talking about just throwing away the lives we had, which no doubt is an incredibly painful idea. On the contrary, I’m talking about making room for their love to keep being here…
Ultimately, it means creating space inside ourselves to keep the one thing from our past life that matters most – the love. If we can manage to clear the debris enough, I think we find that the love we shared has room to make roots for us in our new life. And that’s how this person – even in death – ends up helping us to rebuild everything we’ve had to burn and then some.
Their love will build a foundation for new love – whether romantic or other – in our lives. And just like this small town, so nearly destroyed by a force it could not control, the love remains. The love of each other, the love of the town, the love is at the root of building anew. It will provide the soil that grows the new flowers, and build the table where new friendships and family will gather. And like the town it is for our hearts… after all that destruction has come and gone, it will be the love that was not destroyed… and we’ll realize that clearing the debris never meant leaving those we love behind, but instead making room for them to show up, as love, and help us to build anew.