Sunday, October 24, 2010

Grasping at Shadows

Right now, at this moment, I imagine my mother cleaning. Furiously. Mop handle in hand, swiffer head prying specks of dirt from corners of the recalcitrant kitchen ceiling. One sister, the one just younger than me, my mind paints carrying the deceased squirrel her puffed-with-pride cats left in the living room for her approval between pinched fingers, tears streaming down her face, her other hand filled with the telephone into which she is speaking. The next youngest sister I see sitting in her desk chair, one or two cats on her shoulders, or the desk, or lying next to her feet as her fingers tap words into existence on the screen into which she stares, almost blankly, as if she, or it, is just an apparition. A favored blue loveseat cradles my youngest sister, I am sure, her fingers, her thoughts, lost in the fur of her newest foster, a Siamese-mix whom no one else can touch.

And me. Staring alternately at the document I’ve opened and the elderly cat lying next to the screen, a girl whose eyes drift closed when my hand finds that spot behind her ears, or when my fingers smooth the hair on her flank.

Philosophy aside, why is this moment so important?

Right now, in this fractal of time, my mother’s baby sister lies dying in a hospital in a beautiful Oregon town. Her children are with her. But her doctors cannot discover the root of her malaise, and a month has passed while she lay, waiting, for someone to cure her ill, to make the pain stop. And today – this morning – a surgery was attempted. Unsuccessfully. And now - still - she lays, conscious; conscious and waiting for the time at the end of the the two hours to two days they have given her.

It – the thought – is nearly beyond bearing.

Initially, we deal with trauma in such different ways. Every time a new stroke of lightning falls, crushes us unto the ground, we lie there until strength returns - because we have no other choice. We weep, we wail, we keen to the sky as we lift ourselves with trembling hands from the scorched earth.

And then, as we stand, we turn and flee in the safest direction.

Today, after I heard the news, I took my son with me on my hunt to try and find food my ailing cat, the one who’s in renal failure, will eat. During the drive into town, as my son played his game in the back seat, I silently cursed the cruelty of life, and of death, even as my son laughed and I watched the sun slink across the sky. I wondered why, questioned the happenstance, and doubted if we can ever know. Doubted that we can understand, because we don’t really want to. Because even if we could understand, tried to really comprehend the mechanisms, the sheer randomness of life and living, could we accept that truth?

I don’t think we’re ready to do that. But yet we need to control. To predict the future. And so we fill our time, substitute /something/ for the mawing grief that threatens to gulp us down. Because we cannot sustain that pain any more than we could survive constant physical pain, we push it aside. We act, we purge, we deflect, we cling. We intellectualize. We run and hide. And then, as the pain lessens, as those pangs twinge just enough less, we invent reasons it exists. Themes. Stories to fit it all into. We assign blame because we yearn to know how to make this badness not happen again, because if it does, we just don’t know if we can survive it again.

But as we walk, or sprint, those paths, the ones where we try to make sense of the horrors living bequeaths us, we lose the truth. We grasp at shadows, and turn our faces from contradictions. Even the really obvious ones.  

If you’re waiting for me to tell it, I’ll be honest. I don’t have the answer. Not one, not many, and certainly not all.

I am certain that we hurt. I am certain that we die. I am certain that bad things are never fair -- and that it is never the right time for them. Perhaps most profoundly, I am certain that there is no sense in things as we imagine it.

One day I hope to be smart enough to divine the answer, and brave enough to stare it in the face without the flinch I know awaits it. But I suspect that the laughter that follows that knowing will not be my own.