Thursday, April 9, 2009

Calibrating? Muddling?

A fairly new acquaintance says to me, "I don't know how you've managed to come back to seminary this year. When my mother died, I took a quarter off. A child? I don't think I could have done that."

A good, longtime friend says to me, "I don't know how you're doing what you do."

What do those statements mean? Do people think I don't love my son enough? Do they think I'm in denial?

I don't think either of those things are true.

I am rather cheerfully pushing my cart through the grocery, thinking that while I feel like shit, I feel relatively ok. Better than a lot of days. Then some piano music wafts through the air. I have no idea whether I have heard it before, whether it is glancing off some subconscious memory. But I want to let the cart go, sink to my knees, and wail a long and piercing cry. I don't, of course. I keep pushing the cart, and wonder how many people we see in our daily lives out there in the world who are silently keening.

Three women in the coffee shop. One of us lost her father a year ago; after she cared for him for months, he died in her arms. One of us lost her son seven-plus months ago. One of us is accompanying her husband through his chemotherapeutic battle against a particularly virulent form of cancer. We are laughing and beginning to plan a college graduation party for four young ladies we know and love.

What does that mean? Strength? Resistance? Oblivion?

I think that mostly it means that I love the women I know.

Oh, and the wisdom thing I've been muttering about? I think I get it. What you learn from this kind of suffering is that you know nothing. I mean: really nothing. If you have reached the age of 50, you are probably already aware that you have never known or understood nearly as much as you may have once thought you did. But this kind of loss clarifies it anew: we know NOTHING.

That, I think, is wisdom.


Songbird said...

I suspect they mean you are stronger than they are, or rather stronger than they *think* they are.
When I lost my baby, I could hardly get off the couch for months, but some people get up and clean the house and it makes them feel better. It's not like there is one way. My hope is there was no judgment in what they said to you.

karengberger said...

I have heard many such comments. I think it can mean, "Thank goodness it's not me. Looking at your situation terrifies me."
People used to say that they "could never do what I'm doing," whatever that means, and I used to think, "Yes, you could, if you had no other choice."

About your "house" comment: it's so hard for people to know what to say to us; sometimes, I think they just fill the silence with words that have no meaning. You are absolutely right to question the statement. Who knows how you will feel in the future? Perhaps the comment was meant to prevent you from acting in haste, and regretting your action later. It was likely meant in love, but how difficult communication can be when we are living in what feels like a parallel universe to our former "normal."

As you say, we know now that we do not know much of anything. You sound as if you are doing what is natural to you. There is no way to do this, other than your own way. God bless you as you take each day as it comes.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I think karengberger is right. They are saying they can't imagine dealing with such pain.

What you've describe in this post reminds me once again how very, very complicated humans are that we can feel so many layers of emotion.

Michelle said...

As I sat in the chapel tonight, waiting for Compline to begin, I looked at faces around me and thought about who might be keening inside. Many of us...

I'd call that peculiar mixture of love, laughter and pain resilence.

This wisdom is kenotic.

Lisa :-] said...

RE: Wisdom...

I stand by my comment on your earlier post.

You are right. The older we get, the more we know we don't know.

Cynthia said...

OK has become a big word me this last year. The loss hurts, the healing hurts, but I'm OK. I still have those silent moments of keening when something cuts to the bone. I've transitioned to the stage of mourning though where it feels like people think I should just shut up and stay silent. I am trying to live a well rounded life. Death and loss are not the only things I think about, but it's still a big, defining part of my daily existence.

Daisy said...

You said it all, GG. I turn 50 today and that's the conclusion with which I cross this particular threshold; the more I know, the less I know.

I think Songbird and karen pretty much nailed it. The comments you mentioned in your post point to that biggest fear that we all harbour. In fact, there are times when my mind begins to consider such things and I hear a scream welling up from deep inside me that I can only hope gets translated by the Holy Spirit as one of those groans of the spirit. It occurs at the moment of realization of the deep suffering involved in the human condition both on a global "humanity" level and on a very individual one.

It is the point at which artists and poets compose those things that sting the heart and the eye. They say what we would like to say in a less awkward or tactless way. We hear you and we recognize that kind of sorrow.


Carol said...

For many of us it takes the tragedies that you've described, coupled with age, to gain true wisdom. And humility plays a role in this, too.
From where I sit, GG, you're one of the wisest people I know. Of course, that was true before the last 7 1/2 months as well. It's just that now there are extra layers to your wisdom. Your empathy, perspective, and knowledge allow you to see and understand things in ways that others can't possibly. And when people ask the questions that you've listed, I agree with those who said that what they're really saying is that you are, at least ostensibly, stronger than they are.
I for one, consider myself blessed to call you my friend.

sunflowerkat321 said...

What I've learned is that we can never assume that we understand what another person is feeling. Even if we have had a very similar experience, what they feel and how they cope is their own. And whatever that is.

I agree with what the others have said here. I think people are too terrified to put themselves in our shoes. Unfortunately, heartbreaking tragedy eventually hits us all. Deep down, we all know this and our instinct is to fend off imagining what come with it. In being unable (or unwilling) to fully empathize, all that is left are words that are meaningless. is what it is.

bean said...

i think it means not that we know nothing but that we understand that each day is a gift to be used by us on this earth. we know that there may not be a tomorrow and to take today for good purpose.