Order, disorder, reorder

‘Picture three boxes: order, disorder, reorder.’ This is what Richard Rohr, a Franciscan spiritual teacher, tells his students. It’s a metaphor for the path of transformation, what Richard Rohr calls ‘falling upward’ into the second half of your life. We as a society are too focused ‘on rebuilding the first box, “order, order, order” at all costs, even if it doesn’t fit the facts or fit reality.’

But the Buddha, Richard says, ‘is even supposed to have said suffering is part of the deal.’ I can see how, for some people, disorder can be a personal choice. But I can also see how sometimes, it’s not. Disorder is not a choice when it is a necessary confrontation with the tragic – where the people we love die, and we mourn, and as Kao Kalia Yang writes in her letter to a grieving husband, you cry and cry and cry until there are no tears, until the throbbing in your head grows stronger than the beat of your own heart.

Being forced to move into the disorder of grief, this necessary suffering, forces us, though not immediately, to understand and somehow accept, that this is your life, happening here, happening now – this powerful stranger that is grief. And from this, you try to put back your broken pieces, some sense of reorder, even though no part of your identity seems to fit together again.

In Meghan O’Rourke’s ‘The Long Goodbye’, a memoir about the death of her mother, she writes:

And as I was walking I thought: “I will carry this wound forever." It’s not a question of getting over it or healing. No; it’s a question of learning to live with this transformation. For the loss is transformative, in good ways and bad, a tangle of change that cannot be threaded into the usual narrative spools. It is too central for that. It’s not an emergence from the cocoon, but a tree growing around an obstruction.

I like this analogy for the three boxes of ‘order, disorder, reorder.’ Moving into a form of reorder with grief is no emergence from a cocoon – it’s a tree growing around an obstruction, the obstruction of the wound of grief.

In helping me to learn how to live with this transformation, I’ve turned to Kao Kalia Yang’s words in her letter. I hope they help you too:

There is, my dear friend, in the heart of every living being, the will to go on.

For all the dark days ahead, for all the love story you’ve lived, the lives you’ve loved, a spark of light, a hope for life grows stronger day by day, night by long night.

You will find the strength you need to continue putting your feet, one in front of the other, firmly on the earth. Some future somewhere is floating on down.