The boss gathered everyone together this morning in the big conference room so we could talk about the recent tragedy that took the life of a co-worker’s child over the weekend. It was a somber gathering, everyone thinking about this loss and all the others that came before, those yet on the way. I looked around the room and saw three different women who have lost a child the last couple of years. I thought about my buddy who had a friend’s child die in his arms on a family vacation three years ago. I thought about how sweet it was that we were all there in the stupid conference room, awkward and uncomfortable, unbearably sad at this new loss, thinking of our friend and wishing there were something we could do beyond cards and flowers and knowing there wasn’t, not really.
I wonder about how those of us on the periphery of grief kind of latch onto it, gnaw at it, worry it in our teeth, mindlessly and obsessively. We didn’t get any actual grief, but it left a scorched trail in the air behind it and we love the smell of it, we follow it like dogs. We’re sad but we’re thrilled, too, at the way it passed us by.
We keep thinking it will just keep doing that.
And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being glad that you dodged a tragedy. That’s natural. It’s all natural, the grief, the helplessness, the rage. Everything we do, we all of us do it, on our good days or on our bad ones. It isn’t like there’s somewhere a person who did it all right, got the gold star and went to the head of the class for it. We are terrible creatures. Terrible.
Still, we do what we can. We bring flowers, we make lasagna and pots of beans and we feel helpless and ashamed.
In other news, I’m falling back in love with my daughter. She popped out two babies, maybe that’s what it is. Too much oxytocin in the air. But I watch her being a mommy and it makes me glad all the way down. I imagine all the grief and pain her drug-fueled reign of terror caused us, all those years of just soul-killing anguish and suffering, and it seems like a kind of wild place we went to on vacation once. Like an all-inclusive two week tour of hell. Plus a stay over in Burmuda.
Maybe I been dragging the burned out wreckage of that behind me long enough now. Maybe I can cut the painter and let the whole barge of it drift downstream.
Stand on the shore and wave goodbye.
You always kind of feel like, when it’s happening to you, that you’ll die from it. That loss of all you hold dear. Your child dying or sick with cancer or your spouse leaving you or getting fired or sick yourself, you know, whatever it is, you had something, you wanted something, yeah, maybe it wasn’t perfect, maybe you hated it all the time you had it, maybe you never appreciated it, maybe you would have if it had been just a little bit better than it was, a little bit easier, he was more thoughtful or he didn’t do that thing or she did do that thing but at a better time, but now, now, now that’s all fucked and it’s never going to get to be the way you wanted and now it’s even worse than that and it won’t ever be better, it won’t ever be the way you need it to be so that you feel safe, you feel perfect, you feel the way you want to feel and ought to feel all the way deep in your bones. You think it’s permanent, you think it’s over forever and you’ll never feel the same again.
But of course you will. You will feel the same again. You’ll be loved, you will love. You will smile and laugh and think about things that have nothing to do with your loss and your grief. You’ll latch on to new things and new people that you’ll want to be a little bit better or different from how they are so you can appreciate them fully instead of just being irritated with their shortcomings. You’ll take other things for granted. You’ll put off telling other people how much they mean to you until they’re dead too and it’s too late again. You’ll take it all personal.
It none of it is, not really.
It’s just the show. That’s the nature of things, that’s the nature of us, that’s you, man, that’s how you are.
It’s just one thing after another.
I mean, that sounds kind of simpleminded, but way down deep that’s what it is, the play of forms. It’s just one thing after another. Ceaseless. Think about how long the waves have been lapping at the shore, one after another, without stopping since the seas were formed. Way, way, way, longer than that. One thing, then the next thing. Now it’s like this, blink, blink, now it’s another way. Everything. Everything. Everything.
It won’t ever stop.
For me, it gives me a new view on change and loss. If you think you have the things that appear before you, your wife and your house and your job and your car and your kids and your winning smile, then, yeah, it hurts like hell when they are torn from your hands.
You don’t have them, not in any way that could be called permanent. They rise and fall. They weren’t always here, and they won’t always be here. They’re here right now, though, and they’re real pretty, my God, they’re fucking gorgeous and there they go.
You don’t have them, you can’t keep them, they’re not yours, they’re not theirs, they belong to no one. None of us do, not even to ourselves.
Wave goodbye, it’s all going away. Always and always and always going away. Unstoppable.
But, hey, look over there! Here comes the new thing. It’s pretty, too.
It’s real pretty.
There it goes.
What you do get though, is this never-ending stream of gifts. Literally, it never, never stops. It is the very working of the machine, churning out form after form after form without end. (Okay, maybe, maybe it will end, but if it does, if it really does? It won’t matter to a single soul. So, seriously, we don’t have to consider it. We’ll all be dead and gone and everything else will be too, so there’s nothing to grieve over and no one to do the grieving.)
That constant play of forms, right there in front of you, that never ceases and never runs out. What could be the point of trying to hold on to everything? You have to let go so it can keep on going.
I suppose that’s not much comfort, but maybe it is. Maybe it could be.
Love. And service.
And the play of forms.