Saturday, December 29, 2012

No words

This is as much as I can say about Newtown: there are so many children killed in gun violence in this country, many more as innocent bystanders than as actual targets. Turning schools into contested territory with gun toting teachers and security guards won't stop a determined man with semi-automatic. That's been proven over and over. We have to ask ourselves whether we want to be in a civil war, with an ever escalating arms race between ourselves and the people we fear. We've had arms races before, all we end up doing is arming more people who want to kill us in new ways. The alternative is to rethink the way we treat people, from Adam Lanza and Cho Seung-Hui to William Spengler. They all have different ranges of behavior, symptoms, problems. And none of them were born intent on killing. Somewhere between then, and when they pulled the trigger, was an opportunity--maybe many--and we still don't know what that was, or what to do with it.

Someday, the parents of those children may be able to celebrate the holidays again, but it will always hurt. They'll dread the turn of the seasons that their children miss. The stages of life that other children experience will always come with a silent reminder that their lost children will never know any of it. All the beautiful plans in mother and daddy's heads when those kids were born are torments now. As much as we want to support the families of Newtown, in the long run, nothing helps. Nothing will bring those children back. If anything worked, I'd have found it by now. The only thing, the right thing to do is work together, as a civilization, to solve the riddle of the killer instinct. We are only human, but we are human. We have come to terms again and again with the problems of our kind as we've evolved. Every choice we make as a culture brings us closer or further from answers that will give meaning to the tragedy of Newtown, and Detroit, and Newark, and South Central, and everywhere that children are dying for no reason whatsoever except that we haven't earned the right to do better. We're all complicit in this. And we're all paying in our hearts for this. And we'll keep paying and paying until we figure it out.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Pain

Jesse and I had back pain in common. The book he was given by his chiropractor (Treat Your Own Back) is the same one I'm using now. He got his from a badly performed bone marrow biopsy, we think. Mine is from a group of herniated disks pressing on various nerves. I know it was frustrating for him to be in pain so often at such a young age, he'd always been athletic and it took a toll on him. It doesn't make me feel any better to remind myself, of course. It makes me miss him even more, on top of this. I don't know what his life would be like now, for good or bad. He was very much the pilot of his own ship. It's just easier to imagine him somehow still going forward, somewhere, than to think otherwise. I don't care for any religion, because none of them would have granted his atheist ass an afterlife (he didn't believe in one himself). But whatever the reality is, I need to think it's not the end of my time with him. Maybe the only time is in my heart and head, but that's not enough.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dear Jesse, I can hear the helicopters circling outside. Either it's another gangland takedown or the balloons are attacking tourists again. Happy Thanksgiving, Mom.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How I work

Over the years I realized that waiting till deadlines wasn't helping me. I didn't do a good job, I forgot things, thought of better ideas and wording after the piece had been turned in. By grad school I got myself to change. As soon as I knew what the semester's assignments would be, I'd write an outline, some paragraphs, sketch out my ideas. As I came up with new ideas I'd add to that framework. If I learned something in class that added to my theme, I'd research further and work it in. Sometimes I'd realize I'd taken a wrong turn, but I'd learn so much that it was worth it. Because I'd already gotten the general frame of the paper in my head, I was sensitive to new information and ideas about my subject, and I had plenty of time to follow those leads.

By the time the paper was due, it was truly my own, as finished as I could make it. I never had those pre-deadline headaches, butterflies, and insomnia.  I never had to miss a social event or send my kids off because of a paper. I had plenty of time to study for exams, and the months of picking up new information on the particular subject matter made my exams better, too. It wasn't a matter of working harder, or necessarily longer, just better. I had to give up the adrenaline rush, but higher grades and compliments from professors were better. So was the relief of knowing I'd done my best.

Now I find I work better this way in life as well. I gather up resources for what I want to write. Once I get something on paper, I let it percolate, and let my attention draw itself toward my subject matter. How can I say it so my audience will engage? Empathy helps, but I don't mean walking around as yourself in someone else's shoes. I mean walking around as that person, as best I can, in their worldview. You have to acknowledge stereotypes in order to avoid them. You can't bring a fresh message to a cardboard cutout.  Once you get into an audience's point of view, brainstorm. Put things on paper. Don't edit. If you think of a better way to say something, write it down fresh, rather than mark up your earlier version. This way you capture your trail of thinking. Then let it sit. You need to walk away from all that driven writing. Change rooms, change tasks, change your frame of mind before you go back to it. Your ability to pick out fresh ideas, smart wording, engaging sentences will be much better if you haven't been staring at the lines sitting in front of you all day and night. Fresh eyes are almost like someone else's eyes. Everything you do between that first draft and your first read will inform how you work on the ideas you laid out. Think of it as teamwork with yourself.

Monday, October 15, 2012

He'd be 28.

Probably a lawyer by now. Wife and kids? If so, I'd be a grandmother. He'd be in New York, still, most likely. Settled down, starting to look back at his life and think about everything that happened over the last 3 decades, all the changes he had to go through. I can imagine him at that age, and what his world might be like, but I can't begin to guess how he might have surprised us all with the choices he might have made. I can wish he had the kind of life that made him happy, that made him grow into the person he wanted to be. I wish I could be there. I wish he were.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How to tell time.

A little one room red school house on the slope of a holler in Clay County, KY. Part of me is still there, with all that happened, with the children I met, who are now all old and probably grandparents if they live. Every morning I live on earth gets compared to those dewy mornings, the Kentucky sun slowly etching its way across the wet, dark mountains. A distant farmer already at work, plowing with a mule on the nearly vertical slope of next ridge, defying gravity. Poke shoots, blackberries, wild strawberries pushing their way up through the scrabble at the side of the road-- can't pick it because the coal companies spray it all with poison. I find myself on the coal road in my mind, half an eye out for the speeding trucks spilling coal as they turn, the kids grabbing their leavings, to take home for the furnace. There'd be heat come winter. I went with the other teachers to their family homes, sat on their porches, picking peas and chatting, making room for ourselves in their lives. Getting to know a world so different from my own, a world I recognize in many of the countries I've visited since. I can call it all back in an instant.

But I can't remember how to get there. And there is no one left who knows the way. I am old.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The truth is out.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/10/911-cancer-link-federal-government-zadroga-act_n_1870517.html

At least now I know. I know why Jesse lost his life, why he suffered, who is to blame. I know I can get some compensation for the medical bills, if not the suffering we have all endured. I know his killers are dead. I know the ringleader was hunted down like a dog and shot in his own home. Don't expect me to feel bad about that. Don't expect me to be objective about drones dropping bombs. It may come one day, but right now, I feel a sickening joy at the thought. Someday perhaps I'll have the luxury of being ashamed of the desire for vengeance.

It's more difficult to imagine vengeance on the accessories to his death. They're after all, full of reasons for telling us the air was ok to breathe, that we didn't need to evacuate above 14th Street. That leukemia wouldn't have been caused by breathing the smoke that drifted in our closed windows day in and day out. Jesse's brother wore a surgical mask every day until the fires were put out at last, in march. Jesse didn't think it was necessary. His brother didn't spend all of his time here on 17th Street. Jesse did. Not everyone got sick, I know. But what Jesse got, only a few hundred people get in a given year. Around the whole world. And it's on their list. 

There is no word for a mother who's lost her child, because this is how the world works. We give birth with no guarantees. I can never add up the value of life he would have had, the wife, the children, my grandchildren and great grandchildren who will never be; the jobs, the contributions he would have made to the world. I can tell you his intentions. All of us knew who he wanted to be and the changes he was working toward making in the world. Unlike so many 9/11 families, I had 6 extra years with him that thousands did not have. And for that I am grateful and lucky. But like them I have paid dearly. And pay, and pay, and pay.

Happy 9/11, America.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

That human moment

This morning, as I was walking up 5th I saw a cabbie backing away from the intersection, into the side street he was poking out of, while other cars were passing him to cross the avenue. At first I thought he was trying to park. The driver was an elderly white guy, Italian? Jewish? Eastern European? --we all start to look alike the longer we live here, I guess--leaning out the driver's window as he backed up. I could make out the tan, the schnozz, the big mop of white hair. The frailness of his frame, and something in his expression, his demeanor -- a hint of helpless frustration to the point of resignation -- this is how it's gonna be.

Behind him was a van-- I couldn't see the driver just then, the windshield seemed opaque in the morning light, but he honked as the cab got close, not loudly, just a tap, a little reminder beep, to let the old guy know there was something behind him.

The cab was actually hung up on the curb -- he'd taken the left onto 5th a little too tight and got his wheel caught at the edge of the wheelchair slope. Now he was seesawing back and forth to get off it.

This is what went through my mind -- he still has to drive a cab at 80-something? He's having trouble seeing,  is that why he shorted the turn? Wow, I'm not far behind him. That could be me, even now. It seemed so unfair that this elderly guy had to go through this decline spending 12 hours behind the wheel trying to make enough from fares and tips to get by. It was an unguarded moment for me, unusual in the city, I'm usually pretty closed off, just to get down the block.

Partly because I'm naturally an introvert, partly because most of the time, when people try to engage you on the street it's because they want something. It's not that I don't have empathetic feelings for the strangers I pass -- I do, but it's a kind of unspoken agreement that you keep this to yourself. It's ok to glance warmly, maybe even smile -- at kids especially, but not for long. There's a secret time span after which we all feel uncomfortable -- as much as if the looker had stepped too close, literally. A lot of New Yorkers employ this little move of the head. Smile and glance away, as if to say, you seem ok, but I'm not connecting.

When I was younger, the something they wanted-- usually men-- was to flirt with a younger woman. Or, the more constant want -- money, usually. Spare change, pick pocket, snatch chain, the feeble flow of money across these streets at times could break your heart with what it drives people to do. Whether it's sex or money, it can start with the simplest glance -- they read your wandering attention as weakness, and start burrowing. They'll make it seem like they want directions, or need help, or are trying to help you -- it's a whole subculture built for the unwary, out of the spare parts of real human interactions.

That van driver --  I looked back at the van. Now I could see him, a darker skinned guy, not young, maybe a decade or two behind the cabbie, and heavier, resting in the seat like he always sat just there, just that way. 65? 70? That put me right behind him a decade or so. Hard to tell sometimes, dark skin doesn't show the age so much, he could be closer to my age, or closer to the cabbie's.

Anyway as I glanced at him, he was already looking back at me, but not in the way men would usually look at me this long -- and I knew he'd seen what had just run across my face, like he'd read my mind. He had seen the pity (I hesitate to credit myself with compassion), the struggle to want to -- help somehow? -- the identification, and underneath all that, the sense of that chasm opening. And the look on his face told me he was thinking pretty much exactly what I was. We both smiled the same sad smile of recognition. Of all of it. For that moment we weren't a 50 something white lady and a 60 something brown man looking across a sidewalk at each other. We were two human beings, side by side, watching another human being edge slightly closer to whatever comes after all this.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Where it lands

You'd think after 5 years, it'd be a little easier, but I still haven't figured out a way to protect myself from a sudden memory that makes my knees buckle. Inside I feel myself falling to the ground in grief, but on the outside, you wouldn't see anything. It can be a spot we once passed, talking of one thing or another; someone else's child doing some cute thing he used to do; there are a lot of triggers. It can be hard to get through a day, but I do it.

I have dear friends who, after their miscarriages, couldn't bear to hear people talk about being pregnant, having children-- I know it hurts, I do. But it's the kind of pain you have to push through to stay human. You can't make life stop being about death too. You can't change the fact of your loss by avoiding other parents, nor by asking for their silence. But most of all, you can't stop your grief by stopping up your ears. I can't even imagine how the world would have to look to stop reminding me of Jesse. It hurts. But he was worth it. Every second of it from beginning to end. And I'm not saying it's ended.

HBO holds an outdoor movie festival here every summer, in a park near my office. Next Monday, it's the Adventures of Robin Hood, Jesse's favorite movie from age 3-11. ( I gave up counting after his 57th viewing.) He loved that movie so much I made him Robin Hood costumes from scratch every Halloween, and he'd wear them till they were shreds. He memorized the lines, but most of all he absorbed the idea of principled action. Of generosity to those who have little, of protecting the weak, and sticking up for your beliefs. Of loving those who believe in doing good. And having a sense of humor about yourself.

If you ever wonder who Jesse's role models were, that would be a good place to start. I didn't think of that when he wrote his personal essay for law school --scroll about halfway down). But today I did. And the moment of grief that nearly knocked me to the floor instead gave me a new insight into my son. How deep the roots were of his commitment to the good. How that small decision every day to play him his favorite movie became a building block of something beautiful and worthy in him. I am lucky I have a whole lifetime left to discover my son, even if this is the only way. And luckier still to have one more, alive and willing to tolerate his mom's slow uncovering of all that he is, too.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

You know who you are.

I feel sorry for you. I see you clicking in again and again. I can see it's the same person. You come, you look to see if there's a new post, you click out. What are you hoping to find? Answers? I have answered your questions again and again. What you're looking for isn't here. It isn't in my family. I understand that you're an unhappy person and I feel for you. It must be hard to carry that burden of anger and unhappiness. But you're focusing in the wrong place. The wrong person.

 I hope you find peace. I've thought about you, because you are so vocal and so specific in your hate of me and my family, even though you've never met us, and don't really know us. There's nothing I can give you that will give you peace. But I wish it for you.

There are people who can understand me and my message. Luckily, your hate of me has somehow led a few of them here. They respond to me, and I respond to them. I am grateful to you for that. Your hate of me has provided me a chance to help people like me who are suffering from the loss of a child, a loved one. So thank you for that. You have given my suffering meaning, even if you merely intended to shame and punish me with your lies.

If you're suffering the loss of your child, I am here to listen. If you are here to bring hate and spread lies, so be it. I will tolerate hate and lies, to be here for those who suffer loss as I have. And for those who suffer greater loss than me, I hope I can at least listen, offer some small understanding.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mr. PuddyToddy

He's just a stupid smiling little flexible kid's toy crossing guard with no hat left and nothing in his right fist for 26 years since Jesse found it in the freebies box at some yard sale and his face lit up as he clutched it to his 2 year old chest and said, "MOMMY! It's Mr. PuddyToddy!" And I find it on the floor this morning and I cry and cry. I will probably be crying most of the day, on and off. And I don't care. Why shouldn't I cry. I will never throw that stupid  toy away. I will never forget that on that day, Jesse and I were happy, happy with life and each other, and he had put the soul of one of his three imaginary friends into this little blue wire-boned discarded bit of idiot-faced plastic. And Jesse kept it all these years, so I would find it today and realize that he really did remember.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Something fine

I've written a couple of good stories in my life. I know they were good only because of the effect they had on the people whose opinion I cared about at the time I wrote them. The first time, it was a story from the point of view of a guy in college who had been going through chemo, whose girlfriend was in the process of leaving him because he was so withdrawn emotionally that she couldn't connect with him anymore. I didn't think of it that way at the time. All I was thinking about when I wrote it, was making the room into a character in the story. The rest just came. And I could see everything in it as if it were happening in front of me. As if I were the guy, living it. That wasn't unusual, so how could I judge? All my stories seem real to me, and I can remember them visually, the way I can remember episodes from my own very real life.

I'll never forget though, what it felt like to have my elderly creative writing prof, when it was his turn to speak in the class, say, in his Truman Capote squeak of a voice, "You have written a successful story."  I don't think anything else from that month, maybe the year, mattered as much to me. Milton White thought my story a success. That it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and you the reader gave a fuck what they were. And yet when my firstborn son, the same age as my protagonist, contracted leukemia, I never once thought of that story. Not till tonight. My protagonist never once thought of his parents. All he thought of was-- how can she be leaving me?

And I know that was what was on Jesse's mind, in November of 2006. He was worried about finishing his first semester of law school. But mostly he was worried about losing L. More than one text on his phone from that month consisted of one of the most poignant two word sentences in the English language: Come home.

I'll wait for you to let that crash in on you the way it does on me. If you go back to say, March 2007, right after Jesse died, you'll see one of my first dreams of him was him saying, can I come home now?  I still hear his voice. And myself saying, Oh yes, always. Please come back.

I would shake the rafters of heaven till he dropped down.

The second story, I thought of  first, tonight. Still not sure why. Comparing not the narrator, but her boyfriend, the main character, to a pear growing inside a bottle thrust onto the branch that had created it from a blossom. I gave it to a friend to read, and he wrote me a letter, I probably still have it somewhere, identifying with that image so profoundly that I felt guilty that I'd ever asked  him read to it, even though it had nothing whatsoever to do with him.  I couldn't have known it would resonate like that, but it mattered to me that I could do that.

Sometimes I forget that I can write. Sometimes I think of the awful cliches that have appeared under my fingertips and despair. Here's the thing: life, for lack of a better term, is a cliche, as much as it is terrifyingly individual and strange. All that I've suffered is just the price of admission. When you look at the long arc of human history and all that has been endured, how can you dare to pity yourself? How can I?

Maybe there is nothing after this. I don't care. Maybe the last electrical, chemical impulses of your brain are all that stand behind our species consciousness of an afterlife. Maybe that brief last tour of all we have felt and seen seems an eternity, like the event horizon on a black hole, to those inside it. Does that matter? Don't you still want that to be something fine, if there's no escaping it?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Yes, I've been avoiding you. I don't want to sob on your shoulder about my job as a small overripe fruit in a very large blender full of chaos. I don't want to talk about Jesse's birthday, because I'll cry about that, too.  I can't even put my finger on what exactly sucks so much, because I've gotten in two fantastic hikes that left me exhausted and happy, without breaking a bone (for once); my coworkers are starting to like me (suckers), I'm making enough money to support us both and sock a bit away; which is good because hubby and I are tight again. He just spent Saturday spotting me on my unintentionally vertical climb up a rock face, which is definitely an act of love because I was really gonna fall pretty much most of the time. I'd think my life was going ok (considering), except that most of the time I just want to be in bed, except when I'm trying to fall asleep, not a successful project most nights. When I try to write, I mostly just stare at the screen. Pretty much everything that requires thought or planning is at a standstill. Including my

Oh well. There it all went again.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Anniversary with daffodils and embroidery

At 9 am on this day 33 years ago, the sun was shining, the daffodils bloomed, and I woke up after coming in late the night before, to the sound of someone falling in the downstairs bathroom. My life has never been the same.  
Life lifted the hem of her lovely gown and showed me all the poor stitching and ragged seams, the moth holes hidden under silken blossoms, the tangled threads of satin floss draggling  just the other side of those brilliantly embroidered gardens flouncing at her feet. 
 My youngest sibling was 8 at the time. She wasn't home, only me. And my father. She knows now what no one could tell her about that day. That I kept him breathing. That I forced him to stay alive until the ambulance could come.
 Today I told her that as perverse as it is to think this of a young child, it might have been good for her to have been there, because she  would have seen what I did in the face of death, and understood how it works when things fall apart, how you break each moment down and work through it without thinking about the next, no matter what that exact moment is, you keep at it, until it's time for someone else to take over. You shrink death down to the tiny knife-edge of a moment that will only occur sometime after this one where there is still life. You don't look at death at all. You look at a smaller and smaller moment where it isn't quite here.
 I knew he wanted to go, and I made clear to him that I wouldn't-- couldn't-- let him do that on my watch. Either he understood, or I made it understood. I was not going to let go. That was not my job. That was for someone who could make that choice and live with it. Who wouldn't have to look the rest of the family, and themselves, in the eye every day. For those people who pay for their opportunity to save lives with the times, like this, that they must give someone up instead.
Grandpa told me, a few days before the funeral, that I had been given a gift, and my first thought was I knew what he meant (and didn't appreciate the sentiment), but I didn't really. Mostly I didn't want to understand it. It took me a long time to just sit with it. It's terrible, but now I even I find myself a little-- I dunno, irritated? -- at people who cannot face life head on. Sure, back up and hide a bit, but do. not. quit.

My  sister is in her own crisis right now, one that I'm forcing her to accept help with. I tell her, it's hard to keep perspective, sometimes you have to pull back through space and time so far that all of human life kind of hangs before you in a blur -- far enough that you actually feel lucky for the same thing you feel cursed over. Because you lived this long, that you would see this. Because you loved enough to find yourself in this emotional crossroads.

I totally believe in fixing my own messes. I totally believe in other people learning from fixing their own messes. It's what makes you strong, responsible and wise. But I also totally believe in being honest about how much you can fix, and how much you need other people to help you fix the big ones. It's what makes your relationships strong, and makes everyone a little wiser, and humbler.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

So I'm walking home from the dentist in a pained daze, with my face half paralyzed, and in the distance I hear a man on a megaphone shouting, "Never! Stop! Inquiring!" and the crowd yells, "YEAAAAHHH!" and when the next megaphone voice is Sue Sarandon, I realize I'm not hallucinating, and I feel really really glad I live in New York City.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The 0th finger

I walk a lot. I try to keep track of "how far"and meditate as I walk, by counting steps. Meditation is really just a trick: you're essentially letting go of conscious thought, to simply be -- aware. It's easier of course, if you're in a quiet place with no distractions, counting out your breaths in and out. The idea of slowly breathing to a count is the way you keep your mind empty: your brain likely can't do more than two things at once, so by counting out the timing of your breaths in and out, you're pulling your attention away from the conscious thought process. At some point you drift away from the counting, just as you allow thoughts that arise to drift away, rather than attending to them. You let your mind un-wander.

In walking, the counting serves somewhat the same purpose. You're not exactly out of it when meditating in motion; you're aware, but the sense of external vs internal allows you to be present without being caught up in it.

I know that 100 of my steps = 1 NYC up/downtown block; but I count anyway, to let go of the inner distractions. Like all physical activity, it can be hard to keep count for long, either because it's strenuous and you lose brain power after awhile; or it's complicated and there are distractions, like other players, or in my case, window displays, tourists, gunplay, what have you. So I use my fingers as a rudimentary abacus. Each finger on my left hand is a set of ten, each on my right is an entry in the 100s house.

At one point, I remember finding myself confused (not a rare occurrence) when I'd begin a new hundred: your natural instinct is to start with that first finger, as you count 1-10, but being both distracted and out of breath from walking fast, I would realize I'd hit the 20s but had tapped my third finger. Because I'm in a meditative state as I walk, I'm not really thinking about why. I'm not really thinking at all. But this time I thought of Roman numerals, and the abacus, and that this is the exact purpose of 0, to create a meaning to absence. In other words, if your fingers stand for tens, you must begin counting on your 0th finger. In meditation, you want to reach something like that-- an absence that is all presence. As in the tao, the emptiness is what makes the thing useful, like the hollow of a bowl, or the hole in the wagon wheel.

In zen Buddhism there is much reference to the concept of "beginner's mind" -- the idea of being open, approaching all with few preconceptions, willing to learn what is there to learn. You can't pour anything into a full vessel. It's hard for me to let go of my know-it-all attitude, although I realize my doing so must come as a relief to those who know me.

Accepting that I don't actually know much at all is a relief to me too. And research on the adult brain shows that neurogenesis occurs most when we are learning something new -- not when we've mastered it, but in the beginning, when we are working hardest and making mistakes. What if you could approach everything as if you were just starting out? Start on your 0th finger. And don't worry if you lose count.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Another thing

My sister says grief is a bit like drowning. I know that despair, and have felt it at times far less desperate than these. I tell her, stop struggling, let yourself float up, and breathe slow and deep. Lungs full of air cannot sink.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What I'm learning from the mountain

I'm just collecting these thoughts here for now. There's a reason for them, I'm just not ready to put it all together yet. I've been planning to climb Kilimanjaro with a group of friends and family and in preparing myself for that, I realize how much it is like surviving losing Jesse. So I'm keeping track of what I wake up thinking, when it's something that helps me survive a day a little better. 
For people who find this blog by googling things like "insanity of long term grief "or "mourning loss of child"  (it hurts to know you are out there suffering, and that this is one of the few small lifelines the Internet has tossed you, when you are falling like I did--like I do) I hope this gives you something -- I know it's not much, but knowing that this is part of being human -- beyond culture, across time from before we all walked upright -- means that you are not alone. That your grief transcends you even as you transcend it; and that we are closer connected through it-- and as alone as grief may make you feel, it's exactly because of it that you are not alone. 
You are one with everything that makes us human. Learning how to manage this newly discovered part of your greater self is not easy. It's painful. But it is exactly what you need to do. I'm not all that good at it either, so take the lessons that appear here for what they are worth, some things I've learned that seem to help me avoid despair, but also things that make me feel life is still worth living, that there is a reason to take another step, even if I don't know where I will end up.
1. There are stretches where the path is very narrow and steep, and the dropoff seems to fall straight down for miles. People say "don't look down," but you'll have to look down once in a while to find and keep your footing. The trick is to avoid letting your mind consider how far you might fall, or how much longer you can climb. Keep your focus on where you want your foot and hand to go next.
2. Letting go of falling is not the same as having no gravity. I can guide my foot back from the edge, but that's not the same as walking across my own room. Respect the cost of keeping balance.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mourning and how we live it.

 It would be  nice to think we aren't really gone when we go.

It's interesting to me how different cultures approach my grieving. I don't really mean "culture" so much as the microculture of the individual, however it is informed by their past, their beliefs, what they've learned or taught themselves.  There is of course, a general summary macroculture that identifiably differs among groups, or countries, or religions, and it does inform the beliefs of people who are raised in it. But it only serves as a foundation for what each person chooses to accept as part of their philosophy of mortality. And that philosophy, if you were able to really see it, is as different from person to person as fingerprints. One time when you see it most clearly, is when people speak to you of your own grief. It's easier for them to lay it out there when they think it will help you.

Everyone has a theory of mind, of course (what they think people think), but we all also each have a theory of soul, whether we recognize as that or not. A lot of what people tell me, when I'm mourning Jesse, is like prayer -- in the sense that it's something intimately theirs, that comforts them, that touches on their deepest sense of what life actually is, but buffers them from it, too. Like when one toddler sees another cry and hands him her teddy bear because it's what would make her feel better if she were crying.

 I don't think it really matters what anyone says, ultimately -- we feel what we feel. There really is no consolation for it, you just learn to accept it.

I like what Khalil Gibran said of children, that they  come through us but not from us. We are the bow, they are the arrow aimed at eternity. I tell my remaining son that he is my emissary to the future. But he is his own, even as his gestures, words and choices reflect something of me.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Here it comes

January 6th- that's when he told a friend he felt "paranoid" about a cut that wouldn't heal. If he'd gone to the doctor that day, he would most likely have survived. There are other days and events I know but won't disclose here, because other people's hearts are involved, but I feel these past events move through me physically,  displace me as they move the way a stone might sink through jelly. Events that, had they been slightly modified, if they'd happened a little earlier, or later, or differently, might have changed something. If someone had said or not said something. If he had let himself think about this or that, or stopped thinking about another thing.  So many small moments leading always to the same place, a dark, depressing hospital room that couldn't be helped.

Life takes everything from you, but  it's given you everything in the first place.