Grief is an odd thing. It is unreasonable and tyrannical and unreliable even as it is steadfast. I compartmentalize, get work done, as if nothing has happened; I observe very specific, limited deadlines. I tick off the tasks on my list. And then I splutter and my mind simply stops. Shattered. I know I can't think too clearly or deeply. There are even words I cannot find. And yet.
To think: I will never see her again. Never have another conversation that gives me something to think about for weeks. To think: All the times I missed seeing her.
I am walking down Broadway, forcing myself to move among people, buy food, run errands, when suddenly the tears well up and I have to stop, turn around, go home, exhausted.
I can't read anything that doesn't have a hard narrative drive. Murder mysteries suit me right now. Mayhem, with a reason. And a villain.
Thinking about how death has no meaning, really. We impose meaning. On everything. Human beings are story tellers. We want our lives to unfold the way books do. We want a beginning, a middle, and an end, we want these things to occur in the right places, we want an end that respects that the story has told itself, lived itself, wound down with age and depletion. We don't want an abrupt end, like the line that has been cut mid-conversation, mid-sentence...
...Hello? Are you there? Can you hear me? We've been cut off. I'll call back.
We impose narrative because we crave meaning.
I am going to give myself permission to sit out this season's holiday merriment--sorry to everyone whose kind invitation I accepted: I simply cannot leave my kitchen table this evening.
Thank goodness for losing oneself in cyberspace. I've spent hours wandering Internet lanes, looking for comfort, distraction; I'm picking up every email that pings in for that dopamine hit of having my brain light up with ethereal non-connectivity.
And just as I am writing this post, the announcement of an art show lands in my mail....with a greeting card created by Lionel Ziprin, 1924-2009, Beat poet, Kabbalistic scholar, and Lower East Side legend. Or his wife. It isn't clear. Sometimes marriages are so well-knitted that it isn't clear and the colors run.
I have to laugh. Out loud. Don't you love it when the universe sends jokes your way?
I am, indeed, not all here.
Again, while fishing the 'net, I come upon a TED talk about regret by Kathryn Schulz. I'm going to give you the link to one of my favorite blogs--or blog magazines--Brain Pickings. Book and design lovers will become addicted to the beautiful, intelligent weekly postings from this creative team. I can't rave enough about what they do...Here's a quote from the Schultz lecture.
If we have goals and dreams and we want to do our best, and if we love people and we don't want to hurt them or lose them, we should feel pain when things go wrong. The point isn't to live without any regrets, the point is to not hate ourselves for having them… We need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things that we create, and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn't remind us that we did badly – it reminds us that we know we can do better."
What has grief to do with regret? Well, I'm full of regret for the efforts I didn't make...the trip I didn't take for a visit, the time I didn't carve out for a meal. We've all been there. So, picking up on the idea of doing better, that's a good resolution for the next year. When was the last time you remembered a thing about the chore you did, instead of the museum visit you didn't make in the company of a friend?
Grief induces guilt, too. At least for this writer. I'm sure for many. I'm so sorry to feel so miserable...I want to say this to all my friends. I'm so sorry to be crying. I promise not to write any more downer posts here. But...but....I want to stay in touch. And I want to be true to the place into which I have been catapulted, a place that feels lost.
It does seem odd to share this grief with strangers. I stop a few minutes to think about that. Why? And then suddenly I realize--and this understanding has never occurred to me before--that for writers, among whom I have never counted myself, readers are never strangers. Readers of Slow Love Life, or perhaps I should say "commenters", don't feel like strangers at all. They are the other side of a conversation that goes on interminably in the head. They are intimates. It helps to write, to share.
If I've learned one thing in the last five years, it is how profoundly comforting it is to know that we, readers, share grief...and joy...and loneliness...and confusion...and bliss... and understanding and compassion and wisdom and all of it. I am quite sure that every child that ever lost herself in book after book felt that she was able to slip into a vast, friendly, knowing community of sympathetic souls that transcended time, death.
Do you remember when you first understood that there was a person behind a book, a writer? That newspapers were full of bylines? I was quite old, well into elementary school, if not middle school....books just were written. Do you remember when you first understood that some books were written by people who were now dead? How shocking that was, they seemed so alive....This reminds me that there was a time when the written word was, quite literally, a word...that there were no breaks, no spaces, between individual words, theyallrantogetheranditwasunderstoodthatreaderswouldunderstand. What put an end to that endlessness?
...Perhaps my words tonight will touch someone else going through dark passages, and give comfort, just as I take comfort in writing, reaching out.
One thing about the mind unhinged by grief is that we are literally blasted out of thinking paths, like a blunted needle on a record that slides, or unsharpened ice skates so that we move sideways as much as forward. If you give in to it it ceases to become frightening and instead becomes...well, another experience. Certainly not regrettable.
To think: such finality. It takes my breath away. What do we learn from death?