Recently, I sent a friend a text. The content wasn’t important. Perhaps it was about meeting up or figuring out a decent time to chat amidst our mutually busy lives. But after sending it, I slumped back into my office chair, overcome by tears of relief. For the first time in a year, I saw me in the grammar and vocabulary of the text—neither S.L. Woodford the writer, who tends to favor long, elegant sentences and whimsical witticisms, nor Sarah L. Woodford (Library Director), who strides about her texts and e-mails with jolly precision and no-nonsense professionalism, but simply Sarah, a human being who doesn’t favor any sort of sentence structure and would much rather be spending her time cooking, drinking tea, reading, playing music, gardening, and being part of the joys and difficulties of her friends’ lives.
Only as I sobbed did I realize how much I’ve hidden behind both my librarian and writer personae this year. Given the pain that the death of my mother spewed into my life, it makes sense why it happened. Grief casts such a sharp, white pain onto your life, that it’s easier to hold up the simple shapes of your personality, like puppets, and let their shadows dance in the harsh light. The shadows you cast can make you appear whole even when you are not. S.L. Woodford and Sarah L. Woodford were structured, predictable roles. I knew the expectations and assumptions that came with playing them. But being Sarah was much more unpredictable. Grief threw some of my deepest held personality traits into upheaval and direct contradiction. I’m rather self-sufficient and usually a resource for others; I had to learn how to ask others for help this year. I’m also someone who primarily finds comfort and love in thoughtful words—yet, words seemed so empty and distant this year. I just longed to be held, to be shielded. Grief made me cry in ladies’ toilets, run out of concerts, and carry around packets upon packets of tissues. It made me irrationally terrified of beginning new relationships (because even good things end, and it’s hard and sucky and awful). And if there was any possibility of rejection, of silence, or of misunderstanding, at the hands of my fellow human beings, I kept my distance. I had quite enough big, complicated emotions to deal with already. I didn’t need anything new.
And if I couldn’t predict who I was or how I would act, why would I subject others to my inconsistencies and deep pain? S.L. Woodford and Sarah L. Woodford were much safer and steadier creatures to know. Sarah needed a year of hermitage.
Grief casts such a sharp, white pain onto your life, that it’s easier to hold up the simple shapes of your personality, like puppets, and let their shadows dance in the harsh light. The shadows you cast can make you appear whole even when you are not.
But there I was, in 160 characters or less, joyfully reaching out to my friend. And through the tears, I was happy and awed. Happy, that the desire to connect was still within me. Awed, that the will to earnestly step into the life of another (but only if you’re wanted :)) was at last returning.