Sunday, January 17, 2010

Yesterday and today.

Of all the days between Jesse's first symptoms of relapse, and his last, yesterday and today are the easiest to look back on. The illness was still a nuisance. The hospital doctors were at turns negligent and annoyingly overreactive. He gently taunted the clowns and finger painting do gooders that showed up at his room, for trying to apply their stereotypes to his undeniable individuality. Even the PICC line was just an inconvenience. They didn't make him wear hospital clothes, so hospital-appropriate fashion and laundry was a chance to reconnect with me. He wasn't interested in shoulder rubs from me, but the girlfriends, as it should be in the natural order of life.

People say death is part of life, a natural outcome of life, a necessity for life. Right now, though I see the point of life as a struggle with death, just as all good drama is a struggle against its inevitable last scene. We love most those stories that fight to the end against fate, the ones that you wish hadn't ended but went on and on. The ones that still live in you when you walk out of the theater, that come unbidden to mind at times in your life long after you can even remember the date of the performance.

Of course there are stories that do continue on, some spectacularly so. Third acts can be the launch into greatness. Losing someone who is ready to go after a full life, while sad, isn't tragic, unless you aren't yet skilled in detaching from misperception that we are eternal. Think of it though. If you live to be 100, you will live to see everyone you know best, your childhood family and friends, to see them all die before you. How much more could you need to prepare yourself to say goodbye? The world exhausts our spirit and puts us to rest.

It was the end of Jesse's first act. We all, on this day 3 years ago, were backstage with him, keeping his spirits high, running his errands, like an eager entourage. We knew his second act would be as astonishing as all that had come before, and we would have done anything to make that curtain rise.

I wonder if my attachment to the suffering of Haiti is somehow related to my experience of losing Jesse. This is familiar, the sense that something must be done, should have been done sooner, something unprecedented, overdue, but morally unreachable unless somehow the world were smacked awake by disaster.

Haiti has never been a country you could put aside mentally and assume things were going well if you didn't hear about it. Like its sister, New Orleans and southern LA, its people came from the struggle between contest and commerce. Spanish, French, African, slave and master, free people of color, social strata created by skin color, income, language, religion, food, dance, blood. We trafficked with each other for centuries.

All our bills come due. When I saw that teams from Iceland, China, Norway, the US, France, Belgium, my God, everywhere, were working together to pull people out of the rubble, to get them water, food, safety, to usher Haiti away from the disastrous curtain drop, I felt something urgent move in me. Haiti had almost nowhere left to fall, unlike New Orleans, unlike Jesse. So the ground opened up and created an unbidden hell. What is it in me that wants to see Haiti, not just saved, but healed? To make this unspeakable into a new and better world?

A friend I met in Bali told me something recently that pissed me off a bit. She's young and beautiful and strong. She willingly lets her skin tan and refuses to dye the two strands of grey in her long, glossy black hair. We were skyping and she saw I was upset about the anniversary of Jesse's loss and she said, shower the flowers that live.

I think what made me angry is that she's right. I can better serve my love for Jesse by sublimating it into service for those I love. It's just that that definition-- those I love -- has itself begun to change shape. The people encompassed by the first word, the self encompassed in the second, and the entire concept of the third. I'm not sure where it's going. I just feel I'm supposed to be here.


  1. I hate feeling powerless. Whether it be in my inability yesterday to say or do anything that would have helped ease your pain when you lost your son, or my inability today to reach out and snatch up some child buried under a collapsed building a couple of thousand miles away.

  2. Consciousness is not for the timid. So many things in my life happened, brutally and beyond, but I was not awake. Years later I woke up and it was a story - written in bone and flesh, but still it was a story.

    Living in the moments, the tragedies, the transitions, the grief. That is an entirely different way to be human.

    It is the way you are moving through your life. And it is so real.

  3. Iso, in so many ways, you inspire me. And I love how eloquently you related both your experience with Jesse, and the feelings I share with you about Haiti.


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