Thursday, October 7, 2010

One wild and precious life

Over four and a half years ago now, a friend took his own life.

If you want to know what that feels like, if you want to know how that phone call sounds: imagine yourself sitting in a chair, reading the latest headlines, listening to music, talking to a friend, minding your own business.  Suddenly, without warning, a shadow materializes from nothing and hits you in the gut with a baseball bat, as hard as it can, harder than you thought possible.  Your desperate gasp after you hear the news is the first halting, searing breath of the rest of your life, but nothing will ever be the same.

My husband was very close to this person, and so I battled to insulate him from the destruction of an entire community.  But I had also been close to this person's fiancee, though I spoke to her only twice after his death.  My sense of guilt was sharper even than the pain that I felt for both of them.

I think of this now because tonight I met someone who was intimately connected to that community, years ago and all the way across the country.  I understand from her eyes and voice that this is not over.  She lost her fiance and the plan she thought she had for her life, because her fiance, like my husband, was in this person's intimate circle.  And after the death, he just drifted away. 

I suppose this is the point when I could wax philosophical, but I won't.  I learned far less than I had hoped from this whole experience; mostly, it was a grinding and terrible experience of grief, loss, devastation, shock.  Mourning.  In it I recognized crushing despair, the antithesis of any joy or creativity held within this life. 

One month later, I was pregnant with twin girls.  Was this coincidence, or the universe laughing?  How can I know? 

But a few things I know for sure:  my husband is still here, and my girls are nearly four, three reasons to cling all the more stubbornly to life.  I know that death will not fail in its presence.  I felt the baseball bat in my gut again in April 2009, when my mother was diagnosed with advanced cancer.  And the first desperate gasp after that blow was the breath that introduced me to the rest of my permanently-altered life.  Death, and life: joy, creativity, love, an unfailing commitment to something larger than myself. 

One wild and precious life.

...It's not of aging 
anymore and its desire
which is of course unending

it's of dying     young or old
in full desire

Remember me . . . . O, O, O,
O, remember me
these vivid stricken cells
precarious living marrow
this my labyrinthine filmic brain
this my dreaded blood
this my irreplaceable
footprint vanishing from the air

dying in full desire
thirsting for the coldest water
hungering for hottest food
gazing into the wildest light . . . 

These are the extremes I stoke 
into the updraft of this life
still roaring

                    into thinnest air

--Adrienne Rich, "Inscriptions," Dark Fields of the Republic