Saturday, February 15, 2014

Funeral Blues (Song IX / from Two Songs for Hedli Anderson)
W.H. Auden

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

A Sarah Lawrence classmate gently crossed over yesterday - on a day that celebrates love in all its various forms, and the very day that marked the second date she had with her husband. Reading his words this morning - words wrought of tenderness, respect, and piercing loss -I heaved and sighed. And I am stilled. During a season of endless and unforgiving snow that blankets not just my beloved and so very missed greenness, but also any promise of warmth to come, the words hang suspended - icicles that refuse to melt.

I didn't know K. all that well...I knew the cadence of her Italian from our Italian class together, and the slight envy I had that she, with her equally transcendent voice, made the language ever more beautiful. I recall her raucous laughter, which rang down the hill to Bates (our dining hall) - a bell that jolted you into LIFE. She walked with confidence and her smile made you fall in love with her spirit. She was never lacking for admirers. She never seemed to know how not to love.

An insidious cancer claimed her life, but not her spirit. She tackled her cancer with gusto, grit, and a healthy dose of anger, confronting the "what ifs" with a candor that gripped my heart. In one post, she mentioned getting all of her kids' spring clothing ready and labeled for her husband. I thought of one of my favorite films, Tampopo, which features a memorable vignette of a dying mother cooking one last meal for her family, and then dying while they ate it.  I thought of my own paternal grandmother, who, while dying of liver cancer, filled freezers full of meals for my grandfather. I thought of saying goodbye to our family friend this time last year, and that as my tears spilled into my water, he took my hand in his, gently and firmly, and HE said goodbye. He offered me grace. And I thought, not for the first time that this is how the dying say goodbye -  often with much more grace than those they leave behind. 

As I watched K.'s facebook posts decrease, I began the internal process of saying goodbye to another kindred soul whose ebullience helped me from afar more than I realized. Until now. And with it, I am saying goodbye to something about my time at Sarah Lawrence too. We think we are invincible, most of us. We look to that august time traipsing up and down SLC hills as pure, unchangeable, perfection in four years. At least I have. K. represents this chapter of innocence and freedom in the purest of forms because, by all accounts, she remained that unchanged through adulthood - with a boisterous and unbridled laugh, with a steely will, and with a love for this gift we so often squander: Life.

It is hard to recognize that we say goodbye to innocence in so many ways long after we leave childhood behind.

And until the days stretch a little longer...until the crocus peeps its head through the thaw...until that smell of spring wafts through a cracked window...until our hearts feel a little less heavy, Auden has it right. 

Because sometimes, we just don't know what else to do. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Nietzsche Has a Point

"We love life not because we are used to living but because we are used to loving."

Yesterday was a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day."  It just was.

And I know that it could be exponentially worse (having read this morning of a poet executed for writing. Writing.), so why is it that nearly every interaction, emotion, movement etc...felt like sandpaper rubbing me to the point of complete and utter vulnerability?  With each interaction that left me feeling raw, I kept returning to the inside - the part that feels tender, not raw. And I said to myself, "find the love in this."  The vulnerability: perhaps I choose to feel. I think that makes sense. My armor is paper thin, which is surprising given some chapters in my life. Perhaps my defense, so to speak, is to find the love. I proffer it in spades; I look for it in equal measure. In the sage words of Nietzsche, I am used to loving, above all else.

Find the love when a student stumbles in ways I have no salve to offer.

Find the love when I am in a meeting and a litany of anger is directed at me, because even if I haven't caused the anger, I am the person who hears it and hopefully helps to find solutions.

Find the love when after a day that felt like one hundred days (in a Groundhog Day sort of way), a sweet and sensitive toddler has an extended temper tantrum for which I have no response, save a fumbled request for ten minutes to collect myself, and find the love for this moment with him.

Ten Minutes.

We are told to love ourselves. We tell ourselves to love who we are, warts and all. Being "used to loving" entails the personal loving of people, things, moments that no one else embraces. I tell others this. I grapple with how to give this to myself. I fail fantastically in successfully and lovingly articulating my need for ten minutes: a "Please Pass Go" freebie for behaving like my very own toddler. I struggle mightily - fitfully, even - to recognize that when I ask for my Ten Minutes, I have passed the point of doing so productively, respectfully, lovingly. I struggle because the heart on my sleeve, which cries out "LOVE," sobs in turn... due to my own shortcomings in that department.

Yesterday is in the tender past. The Ten Minutes have been filed away, to be replaced with a beautiful and serene morning, with birds leaping from branch to branch chirping in joyful anticipation of spring, with a good cup of coffee, with the same toddler who gave Maria Callas a run for her money yesterday. Today, he is back to living love.  He has returned to the reflexive act of burying his sweet head of curls and innocence into the crook of my neck, washing clean the spoiled goods of yesterday. I remind myself that it is easier to love than to, out of that defensive mechanism that kicks into high gear, not. That makes me love life, in the crystallized moments that offer a romantic wonder at this great world and all of the singular people who populate mine.There is a lot in life to love, and the bad days remind us of the importance that lies in the loving.

So on a pristine, pure morning, be USED to loving. Make it the norm, not the exception. Breathe it in and out....and when the inevitable stumble happens, begin the breathing anew. Salvation lies in loving, and while at times, my own personal fog obfuscates loving WELL, I have to hope that the loving is our lighthouse. And as we breath in and out, with diffuse beams and a singular spotlight that says, "Yes! This one moment is all for the heart!", each moment is a beacon.

 It is ALL done in love.