Monday, February 18, 2019

God Never Said It Would Be Easy

I'm up very early.  Brooding over God, and all the collective hurts of my marriage and his death and now the last two weeks.  It's built up big time.  People saying awful shit.  The ex-girlfriends popping out of the wainscoting to offer to send me baby photos his mother gave them, and to tread heavily on my grief.  Throwaway comments meant to help but actually are little knife jabs and twists that keep me in a state of bristling self-protection.

During the worst times of my marriage (and people have said to me, "all marriages have their rough spots," a platitude that reeks of 1950s received wisdom), I remember this out of body thing that used to happen to me.  I could see my hurt face.  Not the rest of me, just my face.  I could see the preternaturally gigantic fairytale tears quivering and spilling over.  I could see the surprise in my eyes (how could this be happening?). But any anger was pushed deep down into a hidden trunk way back in a hidden room behind another hidden room in a hidden mansion on a hidden street in a hidden neighborhood where The Worst Things live.  It lives there still, but its wispy dark tendrils are beginning to sneak out.

I said to some cop friend of his, last week, "I was a good wife!" like I was arguing with doubters, which I was.  There are many doubters, including me.  "I liked to take care of him and cook nice things and even pair the socks and make sure there were always clean clothes and a cozy home and cozy love."  To which the cop replied, with a little bitterness, "other wives could take a lesson from you!"  I had many startled and conflicting replies, but for once in my overly-confessional big-mouthed life, I kept silent.

God never said it would be easy

I hear this in my head in a rumbling voice: "I NEVER SAID IT WOULD BE EASY," and it has been going round and round my brain in an unpleasant and uncomfortable spin cycle of suds and filth commingling, the psychodynamic washer of my injured soul.  God never said it would be easy! 

If we're in that kind of a casual, chatty convo with God, I'd say back, "Oh Great Lord of the Bait-&-Switch, are you retroactively applying plausible deniability to the shitstorm of my life?" And then I'd  imagine this chat further, with God saying, "I'm God, child! The Great Watch-maker! I never said anything one way or another! Where did I ever say that? Where do you think I told you it wouldn't be easy? The Bibles ? You are one of my faithful, and even you know those books were written by human beings.  Some very fine writing, yes.  The best of all human writing.  Some magnificent poetry, erotica, prayer, history, some gorgeously imagined psychotic ramblings of prophets.  But the actual Me-God? No.  I'm off the hook for ex-post-facto denials and helpful warnings and also for all misery, suffering, grief, concentration camps, child abuse, and even failed crops."

And I'd reply, "but God, I never blamed you for my suffering.  I blamed people and I blamed myself.  Now though, I'm suddenly wondering:  should I blame you? If you are saying 'I never said it would be easy,' then you're a dismissive jerk.  If you didn't say 'this shit is gonna be awful, don't say you weren't warned,' WHY NOT? Why didn't you warn me? WHY DIDN'T YOU WARN ME.  I went blindly hopefully toward life and love.  Like a fool."

I think God is mulling over His response.  I hope He gets back to me soon.  I'm waiting.



Sunday, February 17, 2019

Faith

I talk about my Judaism a lot, but I don't often talk with people about my strong and abiding faith, that is to say, my belief in God.  But I was talking this morning with a friend whose belief in God is also deep and abiding, and I felt a little relief.  Talking directly and specifically about my relationship with God, out loud.  Just a little.  I'm posting a fragment of my side of the conversation just so I won't forget:

"The Rabbinic chaplain of the NYPD (an amazing old man, full of what we call "kavanah") came to the wake and held a small service for us.  He chanted the El Malei Rachamim and said Kaddish, and gave a homily.  The ancient words really do give so much comfort to me.  I had felt at sea in traditions that were not mine, as I tried my best to do the right thing for Alex, in the hour of his death.  But I felt so alienated.  The Rabbi helped anchor me so I could continue on, a little strengthened.

I don't know.  My thoughts are all over the place.  I know I need some grief support, especially to help me work through my agony over the moments of death, I mean the details of the sudden horrible dying and my fears and deep guilt and regret over having failed him.  But I also need God.  I'm working my way to Him, I'm almost afraid of Him, I don't want to be rejected and I've never before asked for succor in a situation like this.  I tiptoe up to Him and whisper something, then I run away again, shy and worried.  Do you know what I mean? It's such a strange feeling, to feel shy and frightened of God, but at the same time to need Him as much as I do."

Just a fragment.  That's all for now.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

What Not to Say to the Recently Widowed: A Helpful Guide (or, Things That Were Said to Me, Verbatim, by People in the Past Two Weeks)

1. You'll be fine. ("*Things* will be fine," on the other hand, is good stuff).
2. Everyone has problems; you're not the only one.
3. How could the doctors not have caught this earlier?
4. It's your duty as his wife to sit in this receiving line and receive condolences.
5. Get your hair done, and get a nice dress, you'll be meeting very important people at the wake and funeral.
6. Think how *I* feel, I was his mother!
7. You killed him with your nagging ways.
8. He should have known, he was trained in First Aid.
9. What exactly happened? What time? Where were you? Was there any warning? ("How did he die?" is, on the other hand, a completely understandable question.)
10. He was doing a really important job; it's okay that he died so young, he had accomplished so much.
11. We're so glad it turns out he was living up to his potential; he told us he was just a social worker.
12. I bought him a burial plot 2,000 miles away.  I would like him buried there.
13. Don't dress his corpse in jeans and a concert tee.  It's not really appropriate.
14. Where's my free NYPD caps and patches?
15. I want to make a large donation to the NYPD Widows and Orphans Fund in his name.
16. He literally gave his heart to you.

My responses:

1. I'm not fine now.  Whether I'll ever be fine is To Be Determined at a Later Date.
2. There aren't words.
3. That's not helpful.  He's fucking dead. A dead. Fucking. Corpse. In. The. Ground.
4. My only duty is to try to stay out of the psychiatric ward, and try to stay alive for my daughter.
5. Oh really? You don't like my rats nest and flop-sweat-stained sweater? I don't look nice? Damn I thought I was looking fly.
6. You gave your claim up 54 years ago.
7. Life killed him with its nagging ways.
8. It's his fault he died? Or is it my fault? Make up your fucking mind.
9. I will be more than happy to regale you with my ptsd-laserlike recall of every single one of the short minutes of his dying process.  Every single detail.  Every sight, sound, smell.  The timeline. All of it. Text me and we'll chat over a latte.  If you really do want to know.
10. You really are a motherfucker, ain't you.
11. Let me ask you this:  do you actually read that Bible you're always on about? I guess not.  Even my Jewish daughter is versed in Blessed are the Meek yadda fucking yadda.  Social workers in NYC do God's work.  So his mucky muck funeral convinced you he was living up to his potential, but when you thought he was just helping people in a job with Children and Family Services, that wasn't living up to his potential? I'll quote Alex, succinctly: "Get the fuck outta here."
12. Good call.  Take him as far away from me as reasonably possible, as quickly as possible.  And don't forget to put monstrous plastic flowers on his grave every fucking chance you get.
13. Of course not.  That plastic sex doll in a suit was way more dignified.
14. Get the fuck outta here.  Buy your own novelty versions on 42nd Street.
15.  Alex's entire life was one large donation to the Widow and Orphan Fund.  His widow and orphan.  He's laughing his ass off at you right now, from his perch in the Promised Land.
16. Wait, is that supposed to be a fucking joke?

In conclusion, I repeat: get the fuck outta here.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thy Firmness Makes My Circle Just




A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
John Donne

As virtuous men pass mildly away, 
   And whisper to their souls to go, 
Whilst some of their sad friends do say 
   The breath goes now, and some say, No: 

So let us melt, and make no noise, 
   No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move; 
'Twere profanation of our joys 
   To tell the laity our love. 

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears, 
   Men reckon what it did, and meant; 
But trepidation of the spheres, 
   Though greater far, is innocent. 

Dull sublunary lovers' love 
   (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit 
Absence, because it doth remove 
   Those things which elemented it. 

But we by a love so much refined, 
   That our selves know not what it is, 
Inter-assured of the mind, 
   Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss. 

Our two souls therefore, which are one, 
   Though I must go, endure not yet 
A breach, but an expansion, 
   Like gold to airy thinness beat. 

If they be two, they are two so 
   As stiff twin compasses are two; 
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show 
   To move, but doth, if the other do. 

And though it in the center sit, 
   Yet when the other far doth roam, 
It leans and hearkens after it, 
   And grows erect, as that comes home. 

Such wilt thou be to me, who must, 
   Like th' other foot, obliquely run; 
Thy firmness makes my circle just, 
   And makes me end where I begun. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Heartbeat



The first time we spent the night together, at Swarthmore, on that silly futon of mine that was not even 3/4 of a twin bed, I put my head on your warm chest and listened to your heartbeat.  It was strong, I mean it was really strong, it was so outrageously bold just like you were.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Call-and-response


In the emergency room, after they called your time of death (which was strange, because I saw the moment when you died with me, and that moment was an hour earlier; I watched as your brain stopped all thought and your eyes became fixed and dilated, though the men continued working to keep a heartbeat for you, that could no longer keep itself), a wail loosened and I couldn't stop calling your name and your epithet: darling darling Alex darling Alex darling

In the waste of cold lights and twisted sheets and metal things, you  couldn't answer me

I took your dead hand in mine and suddenly, beyond the wailing, there began a chorus of voices,  a sea of crumpled people in the curtained beds all around us, reedy thin hesitant voices "I'm sorry" "I'm sorry" "I'm sorry" locked with my voice in the call-and-response of a blues song as old as human memory

Monday, January 14, 2019

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Leave My Mind Alone Part II


I drew this Ouroboros.  I thought a lot about it, read some Jung, and was going to try for a soul-searching and well-crafted post about Infinity.  Or duality of the soul.  Or Destruction/Regeneration. Or something.  Instead my mind went to a practical place, and an eternal struggle in which I engage: when do I hold forth, and when should I prudently shove something in my mouth and bite down hard, in order to keep my opinions to myself?

This comes up a lot, in Interspace.  It came up recently when I read someone angrily defending the Dog Festivals as legitimately of cultural and historical significance.  It came up when I read someone else lamenting the time wasted, and the boredom they experienced, watching 12 Years a Slave, followed up immediately by a recounting of a lovely day spent at the museum, and the inconvenience of having carpets shampooed.  It comes up when I read people defending nazis, insulting fat people.  It comes up when I see hypocrisies, micro-aggressions, sexism, racism, thinly veiled or outright anti-semitism, cruelty both general and ad hominem.

Some of the things that bother me are objective wrongs (though clearly my definition of "objective wrong" is sometimes different from other people, and vice versa, which leads us to a discussion of Absolute and Relative, and never mind).  Some of the things that bother me are things I think are wrong, but am willing to acknowledge (with some resentment) may legitimately not be everyone's idea of wrong, like political opinions.  Then there are the things that bother me that are so deeply buried in layers of outward okayness that to rail against them would require theses and footnotes and an audience willing to hear me out.  That way lies madness.

But in fact, when you get down to it, all ways lead to madness.  You would think that when people call a plus-size model a "disgusting beached whale," that would be a place someone could speak up.  And yet, when people do, it becomes an ever-increasing frustration of counter-attacks that devolve into meaningless ALL CAPS.  Because who among the righteous can let it go gracefully? I see it all the time.  I feel for them, but it's awful to watch.   The woman who said that "12 Years a Slave felt like 20," well she thought she was being funny.  Do I want to tangle with her and her image of herself as an avocational humor writer? She's not going to let that bit of self-definition go, probably not ever. The woman who defended eating live-boiled dogs as being historically meaningful to her culture of remote origin? Standing up for one's cultural heritage becomes a moral high ground, at least superficially, and no matter how ludicrous.

So when to speak up?

There are those who always do, on both sides of my definition of Right and Wrong.  Those people are, in our current time and place, the cyber equivalent of that old jokey character, the Consummate Letters-to-the-Editor Writer.  For the sake of my sanity, I have to avoid this ever-deepening & widening infinite regress of Holding Forth.  As it is, I come dangerously close to the edge of that abyss.  There are those who choose more carefully.  And there are those who don't speak up at all.  I admire those people.  I kind of love meeting someone whose opinions are so closely guarded that you really have no idea what they're thinking (though of course, that can backfire in the jump-scare of a sudden weighing-in, along the lines of, say, "not only do Jews have no right to their own country, they don't have a right even to exist!").

Good to get this off my chest.  I think when all is said and done, a wise rule of thumb for me is:

"Leah, stuff something in your mouth, bite down hard, and walk away fast."


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Lessons in Journal Writing



The little spiral-bound nature notebook has lived for decades in a corner of the long middle drawer in the tall hutch in the livingroom of the lake house.  I take it out once a year, to admire and remember.   I made this with ma, the summer I was four.  My first journal.  I remember drawing the salamander and dictating my observations.  Ma learned that really regular, clear classroom handwriting at Teachers College.

Ma taught me to read and write, and write things down in notebooks, things I saw and felt and thought about.  She taught me to save the notebooks so I could look at them later and remember the things I'd seen and felt.  She taught me tidy handwriting, so that other people could read it, and I could share what I'd written. She taught me to look closely at details of things and she taught me how to use adjectives.  She taught me to use a good #2 pencil with a good clean eraser so that mistakes could be fixed.  And she taught me how to hold the pencil.  Later she taught me that a writing pen should be a good pen, but a good pen didn't need to be an expensive pen, just a pen whose flow I liked.  She taught me that if I made a mistake when using a pen, to cross out my mistake with firm lines and keep going.