Janus… or, Stuck in the middle with me

As I came off a bit from the double-high of running well in Victoria and being recognized as a “versatile blogger,” I found myself increasingly sad and immobilized as today went on. I’d started the day full of plans for all I was going to accomplish at work and in the rest of my day, but by late afternoon I hadn’t made the phone calls I needed to make, and I couldn’t summon the energy to go grocery shopping even though there was basically no food in the house. I got so paralyzed that I couldn’t even take myself out to dinner, so I ended up scrounging around and throwing something together from odds and ends in the pantry.

Grief has a way of coming back and hitting me in the head when I’m not looking. Just when I think I can imagine a future life without Kurt (or when I’m so engrossed in the moment and whatever I’m doing that I’m not even thinking about having to create a life without Kurt), it whacks me again. My slow descent into paralysis today caused me to delay taking out the trash until it was nearly dark and getting quite cool and damp. Then I remembered how taking the trash up to the alley was always Kurt’s job until last year when he got sick, and how I’d had to learn (and it seems I’ve subsequently forgotten!) that I’d better get that job done by mid-afternoon because taking the trash up to the alley is a miserable job when it’s dark, cold, and wet or icy.

So I ended up standing in the kitchen throwing together my scavenger-hunt dinner, crying, choking on my beer, and — thinking about Roman gods?

I was looking for a metaphor for how I’m feeling right now. One foot in the past, one foot in the future, and nothing that feels securely planted on the solid ground of here and now. I want things to be the way they used to be — but they can never be that way again. I want things to get better — but I’m not ready to go too far, too fast, in too different of a direction. I know I can’t force or push or steer the grieving process, but I want to be in control of this process that cannot be controlled. I want to let go — but I can’t very well just say, “Oh well, 25 years, got that behind me, now what’s next?”

So I thought of Janus. I don’t know why. I’m not all that well-versed in Greco-Roman mythology, or in anybody’s gods for that matter. I had to go to Wikipedia to confirm what I thought I knew about Janus, which is that he was “the god of of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. He is usually a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past.”

That’s me right now. I’m stuck in the middle of this transition, trying to find new beginnings, both seeking and dreading the gates and doorways that lie ahead (to say nothing of cliffs and chasms). I don’t want that past time to end, yet the future is both alluring and terrifying — and from moment to moment, I don’t know which facet of the future is going to hit me. It’s an experience of two-facedness not in the cliched sense of being fickle or inauthentic, but in the sense that I do not know which way to look, which way to step, which way I want to go… or even, really, who I want to become.

It’s no wonder I feel paralyzed, why I have trouble getting out of bed sometimes, why I move items on my to-do list to the next day, and the next. I feel paralyzed because I am paralyzed, in this liminal state in which anything is possible and nothing is doable.

I run, perhaps, because the physical act of putting one foot in front of the other allows me to suspend for a little while the emotional imperative to take the steps toward thresholds I’m not yet ready to cross. At the end of a run there is a finish line (or at least the satisfaction of hitting the STOP button on my Garmin), a cool drink, a refreshing shower, and a sense of accomplishment. I feel strong and brave when I run, and capable of doing whatever I really set my mind to do. But in this place where I am right now, there is darkness in all directions and I feel utterly lost and alone.

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Posted on October 12, 2011, in grief, Philosophy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. OK, I know a wrote a poem with Janus as a theme in a workshop at a regional church conference, so I’m going to have to go find it. What I remember of it was something about Janus never looking at his feet to see the present and where he really was. Your running grounds you in the present, between the eternities of the past and the future (that’s from Walden, approx. p.14 in my copy).

  2. That’s an interesting thought, and now I’m thinking about where my eyes go when I run. On uneven ground, I look at my feet a lot, but on a familiar path I’ve learned to look as far ahead as possible. I’ve found that as I’ve learned to look farther ahead of me, I’ve been able to run for longer distances without stopping. When I get tired, I tend to look down at my feet again, and get into that “one step at a time, one foot in front of the other” mantra.

    I wonder if that’s part of the attraction that the horizon has always held for me. Maybe I’ve always known that I need to keep looking far ahead into the future in order to have a reason to keep going at all. Maybe I’m afraid that if I stop, there will be no present at all.

    Isn’t it amazing how when you look at things from enough different directions, everything becomes a metaphor for everything else? Perhaps that’s because in the middle of everything there is really… nothing… and that very “nothing” is the essence of being human?.Oh my, I am venturing onto treacherous philosophical ground here…

  3. you are neither lost nor alone when you have friends and people who love you. We pray for your your healing heart and for your well being. We may not vebalize our feelings well but we are sending you good wishes every day. Sherry

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