I wonder if you know the word diaspora. If you don’t—if you’ve never needed that word to describe how you feel—well, that’s not a bad thing. I didn’t learn its meaning until my late twenties. Fresh off a Broadway tour, I’m reeling from the news that my husband and dear friend are in love with each other (Oh, hi. Did you expect a lighter topic? Because I could talk about how I recently made croissants. But, blah blah blah, all you really need to know is THEY TAKE FOURTEEN HOURS TO MAKE, so you should probably either quit your job or take an extended vacation before trying it yourself. Or just get one at the corner coffee shop. But, man, they were delicious, and I am already planning my next black hole of time I can give to this project just to have another one. So now we’ve talked croissant-making; I think we’re ready for something deeper. Like my first husband’s affair).
I get home, discover a narrative in which I am the woman betrayed (I know, I KNOW. You’re all like, Uh, THAT’S the story I want to hear. Sorry, dear internet, I’m talking diaspora here—maybe not as scandalous as an affair, but I promise you: it ends way better), and move back into my parents’ house. I lose my marriage, my home, and my job all in about the space of a weekend. You can imagine the fun I had answering that predictable Monday question: So how was your weekend? Nothing like some devastation to really spice up the answer! And also, nothing is familiar until I come across the word:
diaspora: the dispersion of any people from their original homeland.
It’s true that when you’re grieving, nothing can take away the pain. But it’s not true that nothing helps. I remember seeing that word and thinking, If somebody created a word that defines how I’m feeling, then I’m not the only one who’s felt this. It’s part of the reason why the #metoo movement is so powerful. It’s isolating to be a victim. The story changes, however, when you discover you’re not alone; that others have been here, moved on, healed, and even thrived. This discovery is a bridge from the cruel place someone has left you to the empowered and whole place you belong.
In my grief, there are long walks in the kind of cold night air that belongs to the American northeast in December. I leave behind my jacket, ID, and phone on purpose and there is something passively self-harming in that choice. Maybe the cold will numb me; feeling hurts too much. Maybe something bad will happen and I won’t have a phone to call for help. For the first time in my life, not being alive–not being here–feels like a break. God has other plans, though. I am grateful He does; otherwise, I will miss all the ways I come home in the days following that night.
My dad’s cousin has never written me a letter before. My eyes are blurring with tears as the phrase, “You are your grandmother’s granddaughter” leap out from her handwriting, anchoring my heart. I wonder what is left of me now that my husband is gone. Lately when I close my eyes, I imagine myself peeling off my skin the way you would wet clothes. I tenderly fold it up and lay it in my dresser drawer, just how my mom taught me. “Of course he doesn’t love her,” everyone says as I walk by, “She is only bones, after all.”
But now my cousin writes about seeing me perform, how she was sitting next to her own mother—the dear sister of my beloved grandmother I never got to meet, for she died too soon—when I walked on stage. “We drew our breath in sharply, Jess,” my cousin writes. “You are a revelation. You are proof that Helen is not gone, had never really left—not while you are here.” The words give me a sense of belonging, of home. I am no longer The Girl Left For Another; I am my grandmother’s granddaughter. Because she was somebody, I am somebody.
There is the twenty-something woman I know in passing from church. She reaches out when she hears of my divorce. “You may not want this,” she writes, “But I’d like to meet you for dinner. I’ve been divorced, too, and I’d love to just be there for you now.” We meet once a month at the Cheesecake Factory. She is my only divorced friend; in so many ways, she’s raising her hand courageously and saying me too. Seeing her well and in a healthy marriage gives me another option. Maybe I won’t always feel this way—maybe this diaspora leads to a homecoming worth the wait. At the time, I don’t know if this means marriage again, but at these dinners with a stranger-turned-friend, I catch a glimpse of wholeness, even joy. I start to wonder if the same awaits me, too, and before I realize it, hope has snuck in with the thought.
My mom says we are hurt by people, but also healed by people. I’m not sure why I am able to read my cousin’s letter and believe it so hard that it makes me feel a powerful sense of belonging. Or why I can open my heart to a near stranger over cheesecake, let her look inside, and tell me I’ll be okay. All I know is that these are some of the connections that call me home. That in the wake of great hurt, healing comes from angles I never could have anticipated. Our broken heart is the perfect sieve to let the good in. It’s always an option, you know—to let the good in along with the hurt. To let them mingle until the hurt is swallowed whole by some good you never knew was waiting for you in the Cheesecake Factory or in a letter you couldn’t know you needed. It’s an option to let diaspora not simply assure you that you’re not home now, but that you’re not home yet. To open your heart to those who reach out, for they may very well be the ones to help lead you home.
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