Falling apart and coming back together

June 22, 2021 | by Jen Higgins-Newman, BHFH Program Manager

Photo: A bowl that has been repaired using the Japanese art kintsugi — repairing broken items with gold, silver, or platinum in a way that highlights the breakage as part of the object’s story, rather than something to disguise. 

Dear Friends, 

“I guess the pandemic is over in Boston,” said my spouse to me a few times over the last few weeks. At the end of May, all restrictions around masking and social distancing in Boston (and all of Massachusetts) were lifted. I had imagined that this day would feel clearly delineated, with a threshold we would all cross that would feel like “wow, we made it.” I think that was the easiest way for me to grasp what the end of the pandemic might be like (and it’s not really over yet, particularly across the world). 

But I was wrong. Instead, some things have felt too fast, like a car speeding up to merge lanes and my stomach leaping. Other things feel like trying to make water come more slowly out of a hose, the pressure welling up ready to be released. Other things have felt like a sigh of relief, like I was holding my breath and didn’t realize it. 

In July of last year, I read parts of Pema Chödrön’s When things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, and wrote an email digest about a part of the book that was resonating with me. As I look back on the fiscal year, part of the quote lands differently for me. Chödrön writes: 

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

Reading this quote now, I am focusing more on the second sentence than I did when I was reading a year ago. Things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. 

I am thinking about this “pandemic time” as a time of both falling apart and coming together multiple times over. And — much to my inner Hermione Granger’s chagrin — I don’t think that this time of emerging out of the pandemic is us passing the test or solving the problem. 

As I reflect on this year, I think the salient thing for me is what I learned through letting there be room for grief, relief, misery, and joy to happen as they happen, sometimes all together. Things are messy in the re-emergence, the coming together, too. It’s not a time-bound project, but a life project to learn how to live in the in-between. 

In Light and Community, 

Jen