On grief, on beauty, on Autumn
The first time I saw my acupuncture teacher almost twenty years ago, she was on the floor of the school clinic and had a man in a headlock. She was cracking his neck, which is of course outside the scope of our profession, about which she could give a fuck. She just knew his neck needed to be adjusted.
It looked like a tiny woman wrestling a disgruntled bear.
She was fearless–confrontational even–in a way that I loved. She insisted that open-toed shoes caused menstrual cramps (the cold from the earth entering the body through the soles of the feet, stinging straight up to the unsuspecting uterus) and would routinely scold women she didn’t know sitting at cafés in flip-flops: “You are doing this to yourself.” When she saw me drifting off in class, she would come up behind me and–still mid-lecture–stab her fingernail into my hand so hard that I would see stars, and then pause to silently glare into my soul like a Death Eater. Some days she would look at me and ask very plainly, “What’s wrong with your face?”
I wanted to learn everything she knew.
She was born and raised in Taiwan. She married young to a very not kind man with whom she had three children. In her abrupt decision to liberate herself from him, she had to leave them too, and Taiwan, altogether. In her ferocity, I could feel that loss: there was always a bit of grief in her eyes, and to this day, her sacrifices are braided into the DNA of my practice.
I had grief in my eyes, too. Mid-way through school, right before I started treating patients in the clinic where she wrestled, my roommate and dear friend died unexpectedly and the pain of it changed something in me. When I finally started in clinic, after taking some time off to recoup, my patient load seemed to reflect the grief she and I shared: lots of emotional wreckage, broken hearts, bleeding out, begging for something to cauterize the wound.
I would ask her, "How do you treat the pain of loss? What do you do when someone has been devastated, and they can't breathe, or sleep, or eat and they feel like they have been totally evicted from their lives? How do we help them?" My very proud teacher, who knows everything about everything, who cracked a man’s neck just because she could, would always answer with absolute certainty:
“I know nothing about love. I know nothing about love."
But she would also say this: “Go to the ocean and watch the tide. The tide comes in and the tide goes out. Nothing is ours; nothing stays forever. It comes into our lives and then it fades away and that’s how it’s supposed to be. We don’t think to grab at it, and hold it, and make it a part of ourselves. And that’s why we don’t grieve it when it leaves us.”
Nothing belongs to us. Life does not belong to us. The pain is mistaking that our affection or attachment entitles us to possession. But it doesn’t. We don’t swallow the sunset just because we think it majestic, and that’s why we don’t shed a tear for the loss of light. It was never ours.
And daylight loses nothing from the sun setting, just as sunrise takes nothing from the night: it’s just something beautiful turning into something else that is beautiful. This is the natural intelligence of the world, the force that turns the seasons, that carries things into our lives and then carries them out, just as it brought us here, into Autumn.