From Ashes

We all fall. Together, we rise.

silhouette photography of birds in flight and perched on an electricity line

I’m not much for stories about myself, because they are just not as interesting to me as other observations. I come from people who prefer song and talk of the unseen world. We’re not into airing, as the saying goes, the dirty laundry

But here’s one. I left school on a stretcher this Tuesday. I’ve been a teacher for almost two decades, but this was my first time as an ER patient. The fainting thing is somewhat familiar, but it has only happened one other time on campus, and that was ten years ago, in a different time, and Nurse Nancy reluctantly let me walk away against her well-meaning protests, after I drank some juice and spent thirty minutes flat on the cot in her office. I am used to the black spots in my field of vision but still bristle at the embarrassment of being so publicly vulnerable. It happens from time to time since I was a child, sometimes after some upset, and sometimes not. This week’s event would have been in the category of “not.”

Except that spending time in prone reflection while being too dizzy to do anything else allows time to wish for better answers to some of the questions asked earlier. 

Like, when did this start?

Um, as far back as I can remember––but not often.

When did it start getting worse?

Oh, December, maybe? Could be 2016, hard to say. There was a lot going on.

I made appointments, eventually. I think maybe there’s a thing going on. . .with my heart? I wrote in the online field, feeling determined at the time––but later, foolish. Each time, as the date approached, I cancelled. Because Omicron, because there were no subs, because maybe it was just age. Because who did I know that wasn’t hurting? 

The young people I meet daily are refugees of war, survivors of generational poverty, internment camps, and institutional abuse––and they are brilliant, glorious, showing up daily with radiant displays of quiet courage. I learned yesterday morning that one these students, a recent arrival from Ukraine, has just made the cheer team. I want to tell you about the glow of her face when she shared this, but lack the words. I got the news after she finished writing about the time when she saved a tiny kitten from a tree. 

We are all this kitten sometimes, I think now. Near paralyzed with terror and in need of rescue.

I cannot think of anyone I see regularly who isn’t working daily against a state of near collapse. Okay, I can think of a few, but we are constitutionally so different that they are hardly valid comparison points. They would not have fainted when they learned about certain horrors of human history, past or present, and they are infinitely cooler than I will ever be. They would not be seen shaking, sweating, or crying in public. Then again, what do I know? I always think I’m alone until I fall apart after trying not to for an extended period of time. Each time I have publicly collapsed under some private grief, so many generous others have shared similar stories that the abundance of company often left me stunned with wide-eyed gratitude.

My people are practically made for liquefying, which might explain the low sodium levels and chronically low blood pressure. We cry with our whole bodies, nonstop. The Irish ancestors called it keening. The women would carry the laments in their bodies and pass them to the next generation. When they keened, they were like birds, like chimpanzees, like horses reared on hind legs, shrieking. They were forbidden to own horses of a certain value as they were forbidden to read, and the keening was known to incite such passions in the hearers that it was outlawed. To be clear, we laugh this way, too, and love. And celebrate the babies.

After my release, my siblings and I had a few laughs trading stories about who among us had passed out when and where and how dramatically, and who had emphatically halted the calling of an ambulance for lack of health insurance at critical moments. My daughter made me a bracelet to wear as a reminder: Mom, you gotta tell people sometimes. When this is happening. So, I am practicing. 

It’s so much, isn’t it? — being human now. I can barely keep up, except by knowing I am not alone in this overwhelm. The moments just before I am lying on the floor feel barely distinguishable from this year’s daily version of dizzying overwhelm and heart-crushing grief. 

Why bother sharing this, except for Mom, you gotta––? Except to note that sometimes all that is needed, to regain consciousness, is a moment of rest and oxygen? Except to underscore that sometimes I wish that instead of a moment of silence we might have a moment of wild shrieking, arm-waving, wing-flapping lament, drenching our clothes until we are all on the floor in solidarity with our dead, before we rise again, into something we’re not able to become until we stop what is happening right now. Except to honor the loving reassurance of those who came to my aid, who helped me when I could not see, and to remind myself and anyone who may need to hear this now, how during any given life, moments like this make all the difference.

Thank you for being this difference. It is truly a matter of life over death, love over hate and despair, and sight over the moment when everything goes dark all at once. 

Love and light, onward.

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I keep watch and listen, mostly in dark places.

10 thoughts on “From Ashes”

  1. So now you’ve had medical care for it. Did they offer any reasons? Schedule a thousand tests? I was dizzy for all of 2020. They tested everything, my heart, my head, my brain and couldn’t find the cause. Finally they tested my blood and found that I had very little iron in it. Fainting is scary since doing it at the wrong time can have serious consequences. I’m interested in personal stories if they are written well (which of course yours is). I don’t think you should always shy away from your dirty laundry. Probably a lot of gems lurk there.

    1. Thank you, Jeff. I am sorry to know that you dealt with this, too. They did do a thousand tests, found sodium low, and strangely I don’t think iron was tested, but that’s been low before, so I will follow up. Fortunately, I have enough experience with these symptoms that I go down relatively slowly. . . As I work on leaning in a bit more to personal narrative (not necessarily here, but in general), your encouragement is much appreciated : )

  2. Hope you’re now much better, Stacey. I don’t think it’s dirty laundry. There’s an awful lot of good people out there who would be, and I’m sure are, extremely concerned for you. And do check those iron levels, I worked with a girl who fainted for that exact reason.

    1. Richard, thank you so much for this kind comment. Grateful for your presence.

  3. I feel very honoured to have witnessed a little of your personal life, Stacey, and this is beautifully written, as is all your writing. I’m so glad you were shown the concern and care you were when this happened – you deserve to have that. As I was reading, I wondered whether you might be anaemic as up till a few years ago, I used to pass out regularly, sometimes in the most embarrassing places, but fortunately, rarely alone. When they discovered I was very lacking in iron, they promptly put me on iron capsules to bolster my deficiency, and I’m glad to say, I’ve been as right as rain ever since. I do find that there are some minor side effects (for me, at least) but it’s a small price to pay for not finding myself suddenly horizontal on the ground with a bruised head and skinned elbow! Take good care of yourself, Stacey. X 💟

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