Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Do It Again Tomorrow

I am continually in awe of how time keeps progressing before my eyes like one of those time-lapse videos.  I wonder to myself often if something in your death changed the very substance of time itself for only me.

Even so the loss- still jarring and inconceivable- really does not retreat.  I find on a day when I send Audrey to sleep over my parents- in the rare case that I actually have a few hours to myself- even though I'm busy shopping for the things for our new home- all of it surfaces- replays again and again still.  I am driving to IKEA and I am remembering the feeling of sitting in a black limo behind a hearse with your photo staring back at me.  The utter aloneness I felt as I sat there with your family- silently- the pure "wrongness" that screamed inside of me while I sat motionless, silent.

In IKEA- I am remembering somehow different trips there when we last moved together- and around each corner- there is the spot where we chose our desks- "I really want you to get a nice one so you can write..." you say as I push my cart around that one.  And there is the register where I ordered the chaise in the linen color because they were out of the gray- while you pushed Audrey around in the stroller.  There you are walking towards me, dragging your feet- holding your cup of coffee in the restaurant.  I sip my own with tear-filled eyes while I sit alone at a large table for 8 in the restaurant- eyeing families everywhere- thinking about how magical it must be to have your complete unit- wondering if any of them understand how lucky they are- and then continue on with my to-do list for the new house.

I think a lot about whether or not our relationship is also dead in its entirety.  This is because I feel something in me still trying to connect with you.  It's because I often sense your hands on my shoulders when I've had enough- and it's because I sometimes laugh about these inside jokes we share- new ones- not old ones from when you were alive.  It all makes me sound kind of crazy, I realize- but in reading a book about an anthropologist's objective study of the evangelical's relationship with God- (that happens to focus on the same movement/branch of Christianity Dan and I were involved with for years) it seems the "relationship with God" that evangelicals talk about so much- the words spoken by God in their minds- are not so different from the narrower- yet expanding relationship I often experience with you.

Two friends send me the same info on a new book coming out in a week or so written by a neurosurgeon about his own near death experience.  It even made it to the cover of Newsweek this week.  I read Christopher Hitchens' last book and notes before his death entitled just "Mortality."  He referred to his final days as living dyingly.  I relate to this phrase at first, but decide I will not live like this.

Sometimes I'm disgusted at the way my own crisis of faith following your death- though I'm not even sure that is the right term- can appear so superficial and childish from an outsider's viewpoint.  As if I knew suffering existed before and believed in a benevolent God- but after it struck me- I became angry like a teenager having a tantrum.  Actually, it's more like Lewis says- you don't know how strong a cord is when you use it to tie a present- but when you're hanging from a precipice- then you find out how  strong you think that cord is.  And also though, I realize- it's because of the fact- that until one has suffered - it is possible to not believe suffering exists even though you are aware of it on a conscious level.  I have always been extremely sensitive and empathetic- feeling others' pain deeply even when I myself really did not know the depths of it and thought I did- but I also think, now, looking back- I subscribed to a philosophy of Solipsism.  Sometimes I would sit and literally think really hard and realize in this moment of pure isolation- that my entire world - life itself- has been in my mind- and maybe the whole world is in my mind.  Once I even articulated to myself that maybe  I could reconcile the intense suffering in the world by other people with a good God by believing that not all people were real- or as real and that perhaps some had been "planted" by God to teach the rest of us things.  I knew this strange breed of Solipsism was incredibly egoistic- but I guess I was desperate to explain away some of the pain.

Now, not only do I find I'm doubtful of the cord's ability to hold as I dangle here- but I know that suffering is real because I know you were real.  I still feel as if the existence of the external world is unresolvable- as is my internal world- but I am less alone- less trapped by my own consciousness- my own reality.  As I have said before- the existence of this immense invisible pain I had never tasted before gives me great hope in other things immense and invisible.

"Mothering and making a home- it all takes so much energy..." a good friend who was widowed at around my age many years ago writes to me.  It does- and I suppose that's partly the reason for this strange pairing of a trip to IKEA with the realities of the universe.  One simply has to believe in something in order to keep expending so much energy - in making yet another home- in mothering a child lately prone to tantrums - amidst this seemingly domestic themes- why buy a new heart-shaped doormat, hang up a coat rack, why hold this screaming child calmly instead of screaming back- amidst all this- one is always staving off existentialism- always wrestling with the liturgy of what writer Kathleen Norris calls, "The Quotidian Mysteries," and why it's worth getting up to do again tomorrow.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Winding

From day one, it's full of contradictions- and the move has been no different.

A widow friend warns me that it might feel after we move, as if you disappeared or never existed, because our new life will no longer have a place for you.  Audrey asks if we can call one of our new dining chairs "Appa's chair," and I agree to it.  For most meals, one of her dolls joins us in that chair.

But it is, in many ways, a disappearance.  Everything is changed: environment, routines.  I haven't gotten to hang up photographs yet either, so that doesn't help.  This is a place you have never been.

And then, after a few weeks of "settling," I realize everything, our life, situation, is exactly the same.  I still sit in bed in disbelief each night- I still stare at our daughter's closed eyelashes- so much like yours- while she sleeps.  Time- the first environment- is still the same- fast and slow simultaneously- uncomfortable.

The pace of life quickens now- with school routines for Audrey, an impending job search for me, but I am still not, and will not be, one of those busy, purposeful looking people running to and fro.  That, I think, I have forever stepped away from.  Still- your absence- and your presence- surprises me more when I have less time to dwell on it now and I think often of this quote from a young girl in "A History of Love,"

Every year, the memories I have of my father become more faint, unclear, and distant.  Once they were vivid and true, then they became like photographs, and now they are more like photographs of photographs. 

The night before her fourth birthday party, Audrey started to talk about you- wishing you could attend her party.  She sat by a photograph of the three of us I have yet to hang up, caressing your face.  She told me she missed you very much and was very sad- then she ran to get her camera, and took photographs of your photograph.  They are blurred- but clear- and close-up.

The character continues:

But sometimes, at rare moments, a memory of him will return to me with such suddenness and clarity that all feeling I've pushed down for years springs out like a jack-in-the-box.  At these moments, I wonder if this is the way it feels to be my mother."  

Yes, yes- it does.  A jack-in-the box- but many, many times a day.  Each day, a rhythm of the slow, mechanical winding- and then the jump....the slow winding again...the jump.  The more full our days, the less moments for the jump- but the winding- the tension- the music- is always there.  It does not quiet.

The fear of losing you, forgetting, dissipates.  Certain things are changeless.

Longfellow, The Cross of Snow

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
A gentle face--the face of one long dead--
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head 
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died, and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books be read
The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.