We grieve we when lose someone, but we also grieve when we lose a sense of place or time or self, a path we feel we’re walking (toward something important), or a reliable-seeming understanding of how the world works.

A lot of us have lost things over the past few years.

Many more before that, too, of course, but since 2020 it’s seemed like one massive everything-overhaul after another: a global pandemic, geopolitical strife, military conflict, famine, mass shootings, climate-related tumult—it’s been a lot.

The numbers are staggering.

A recent report from the World Health Organization said that about 15 million people have died as a direct result of the COVID pandemic, that number about 2.7-times the official number because it accounts for “excess mortality” figures that include folks who, for instance, died because an important surgery was delayed while hospitals overflowed with COVID-infected patients.

That’s a lot of human beings to grieve.

Alongside all the fresh biological concerns and economic stresses and professional worries, many of us are suffering the ineffable impact of having our grasp on how things work subtly tweaked each night—under the cover of darkness—so we can’t be certain if our previous day’s mental framework of the world still applies with each new sunrise.

I don’t know what to do with all this information.

I’ve been trying to keep track, to regularly pause and take stock of the actual numbers and their meaning so I don’t succumb to overwhelm and just plop myself into some new paradigm without appreciating the internal strife and physical harm we as a globe-spanning society have suffered along the way.

We’re in a liminal space now, and it almost feels like all the variables, all the game pieces, are flying through the air after an errant elbow knocked the board from the table and catapulted them from their rightful places.

And now we’re holding our collective breath, waiting to see where they land, waiting for the next fresh hell to arrive tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that and tensing our collective body to prepare ourselves for each new thing: all the new horribleness and uncertainty that will define our existence until we land at a new normal—a new pleasant, calm, sturdiness where we can unclench and exhale.

But I suspect that next-step normalcy is just an appealing mirage.

I don’t think we return to a version of what came before. I think we have to find fresh footing in whatever this is, and whatever it settles into when those pieces finally land; we have to make something of what’s here rather than longing for what was and where we expected to go, next.

I do think it’s important to grieve, though.

To consider, appreciate, and show some small respect to the lives lost—those of people we know and those we don’t—to the dreams dissolved, to the paths dug up and paved over, to all the things we’ll need to rethink and begin weaving into our shared stories as we undertake the generational labor of writing new ones.

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