As I scrolled through Facebook, the flower in the photo jostled my brain to recall another flower–this one from a fairy tale–but both with the shared purpose of marking time.
To mark the passage of COVID lockdown/quarantine, a friend posted a picture of a drooping tulip with withered, pink petals of an almost magical translucence that sparkled in the light pouring through some French doors. The image evoked memories of the enchanted rose from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, a timer that counted down the days until the selfish prince-turned-beast either learned to love and be loved by another or else was doomed to live forever in his body of fur and claws.
Trapped in a castle, surrounded by beauty and luxury, yet helplessly waiting for the grace that money can’t buy. Oh Beast, I feel your pain. The tale of Beauty and the Beast holds such a treasured place in my heart. I even once wrote an (unpublished) play called Songbird which was a retelling of the Scheherazade story, which I have long thought to have many wonderful parallels to Beauty and the Beast. But I digress.
According to the Disney film, the Beast had until his twenty-first year to learn how to love and be loved in return (and now I have that intro line from the movie Moulin Rouge swooping through my head), and in my case, instead of a finite number of days that wither and drop down like velvet rose petals, my counter moves upward, the petals gathering thicker, the number climbing into the unknown. Another petal, another week within the walls of my own castle, longing for the friends that my heart needs, but, unlike the Beast, no one is going to stumble into my territory. They’re also prisoners of their own castles.
And yet, love seems like it should still be the key that breaks the spell. Love. A heartfelt talk with eye-contact, laughter, and groans of commiseration. The simple pleasure of sharing dinner, wine, and dessert. A movie night with snorted chuckles and running commentary from a room of people bunched together on couches.
My rose gets heavier with its growing burden of petals, the count of days runs higher, the loved ones seem more distant.
I grieve silently for myself through exhaustion and depression, and I also see this imprisonment in terms of what my children will likely lose. Vacation Bible School, swim lessons, water parks, the summery freedom to do new and different things.
And then, the depression poisons my writing. On Saturday I found I could only read my work with a deeply critical eye. I’ll have to step away from that, too, if only for a little while.
For me, being gentle with myself means letting my body be exhausted every night and letting myself fall onto the couch to watch a show without guilting myself for it. Giving the kids more screen time so that I can prep dinner without interruptions. Taking *all the baths.* Writing moody poetry. Praying more. Journaling. Admitting that I’m grumpy and lonely and lacking in direction. Being open to kind words of encouragement
I’m slow to acknowledge the grief of this ongoing experience. It’s unlike any grief I’ve yet known. I’ve lost my hope and freedom. I’ve never yearned for liberty from prison before. True, nobody has locked my front door; in a way, I’m choosing this isolation and yes, I do believe in its goodness, but it doesn’t make the sacrifice any easier.
So, another day passes, another notch carved into my cell’s wall, (if I were a true inmate) but I’ve decided that I’m not counting! A friend texted me until I finally laughed out loud at his ridiculous, warm-hearted jokes. Another reminded me that my out-of-control sadness isn’t my fault–depression is sometimes unshakable. A girl friend called me on the phone right when my kids were settled with a game and I had time to pour out my heart honestly to her.
These are all answers to prayer. Flashes of the rugged, blue mountains, glimpses of the valleys bursting with blossoming trees, the brief moments when the fog parts and lets me see through to the realm beyond my prison to the good things which will be there when I am free again.
This is a lesson I’ve already learned: grief and sorrow break me open. These same cracks, if I share them with humble courage, can be used as inroads for love and connection. And that’s the moment when healing and purpose glisten like jewels hidden in the mud.
You guys, the end isn’t in sight, but just in the last few hours, I’ve found some solace amidst the anxiety.
Sending you all my love and warmest wishes to be gentle to yourself and to encourage you to share your fears and struggles with someone who will listen with love and compassion.