Finding gratitude in times of pain

Ode to Ghost Ship

Candles from the Lake Merrit Vigil for Ghost Ship fire victims

The recent fire in the artist space in the Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse where so many lives were lost has left my heart hurting so deeply. Just days before this fire I had started a gratitude practice — it was to be 30 Days of Gratitude journaling for the entire month of December. The fire happened on day 4.

When we woke Sunday morning to the news that the fire had taken place at an electronic music event (something my kids have attended many times) in a warehouse space in Oakland (very near to my kids’ home) and there were still 25 people missing (I suddenly realized I hadn’t heard from my kids the day before.) I was frantic. I called them at every number I could think of — I called girlfriends, and mothers of girlfriends, close friends, etc. No one answered. Granted it was very early on a Sunday, even if they were okay, they were certainly sleeping in, but my mind did a million “what if” scenarios. What if they were at the Ghost Ship warehouse that night, and since they often go away for the weekend, no one thought it was unusual that they weren’t online all of Saturday? What if they were in the hospital and lost their phones in the fire? What if their cats weren’t fed all day yesterday? What if? What if?

My husband and I had started to get dressed so we could get into the car and run over to their house, when the phone rang. It was one of the house-mates returning our call. “Yes, they are home. All is well.” I breathed the biggest sigh of relief.

My gratitude journal that day was full of “So much gratitude that my kids avoided this disaster.” But there were many other parents who weren’t as lucky.

Yesterday a friend posted an article about some of the victims:

I am a sucker. I had to dive in. I clicked on the link and read about a 22 year old musician who was just beginning to unfold into the beauty of her life. She had a new girlfriend, had recorded an album, had done a concert tour, was incredibly happy with the trajectory of her life. She enjoyed spending time at the ghost ship warehouse with other people from the queer, trans and artistic communities. They described the space as “Our chosen family, our radical music community, one of creative, beautiful people who are not as highly valued in normative spaces as they should be.” In the middle of the night her mother and father were called to come to the warehouse where their daughter was trapped inside. When they got there the flames were so fierce, they couldn’t even penetrate the door. They recalled how “all we could do was stand there.”

This image haunted my day, but it began to fade as I did my work, chatting with co-workers and attending various meetings. At 4:00 on Tuesdays I attend a yoga class and yesterday was no exception. I found my way there, sat on my mat and breathed deeply through the poses.

But, oh! At savasana! As we lay in the dark, flat on our backs at the conclusion of a vigorous practice — the instructor played an ethereal tune that conjured images of angels singing. Suddenly I was transported to that warehouse fire. I was seeing the scene from far above in the smoke of the night sky. In that moment, with the music swirling in clouds of light and sweetness, I could feel myself transported. In a flash, I was both the parents, huddled in horror on the sidewalk, and the spirit of the daughter rising into the night. The beauty and the catastrophe and the sadness engulfed me fully. I felt so deeply the amazing love and connection of children and parents, the mingling of shared histories, the melding of spirits, the crying out at the sadness of release, but the realization that connections are ethereal, not physical. I could feel the aching tenderness of this daughter-spirit, so full of love, reaching out to her grief-stricken parents with a heart-smile. “It’s alright,” she seemed to say. But, for those parents on the sidewalk, their world was shattering, their hearts becoming charcoal and ashes, their bodies being extinguished moment by awful moment, knowing it would never be alright again.

And there I was on my yoga mat. The tears rolling down my cheeks, trying desperately not to sob out loud. It’s not the first time that I’ve cried during savasana — somehow the act of yoga helps release us from our physical bodies for a moment and we are better able to connect with our spirit bodies. That connection and that realization is so beautiful that it is also absolutely painful.

When the lights came on and we returned to the class, rolling our mats and putting on shoes, I felt so heavy. I wondered how I would ever find my gratitude in the midst of feeling such pain.

But last night I wrote in my journal:

I am grateful for my heart that can feel so deeply.
I am grateful to be a parent so that I can know the absolute heartbreak of a love so big that it engulfs the world.
I am grateful to have shared my time on this earth with such amazing people — my children and my family, and all of my relatives who have passed on.
I am grateful to have shared this earth with amazing writers and thinkers and artists: Maya Angelou and Michael Jackson and Barak Obama and Jon Stewart and Steve Martin and Forest Sun (okay, my list is unique) and it could go on and on.
I am also grateful to realize that while 22 years might seem a short time on this earth, it is actually an eternity to the cosmos.
And, I can be grateful for little things too — the fact that I am employed and have an employer that provides yoga classes.
For the artist that created the ethereal music that transported me on that yoga mat. And for the fact that my body is healthy enough for yoga.
My list is long and my life is full and I am so blessed to be sharing this time in space with so many beautiful souls that touch me in so many ways every day.

If you are reading this — then we are sharing a connection right now, and for that I am grateful.

If you have read this far, you are a trooper and I appreciate your heart that now knows a little bit more about mine.

I am grateful for the 30 Days of Gratitude project and the women that are taking part and hopefully finding their own amazing and wonderful lists piling up in their journals.

I am extending a big Namaste (bowing to the light in you) to all of you!

If you’d like to join the 30 Days of gratitude project — find it here.