Another View of Distance...
... a happier view. I know that this post has a dismal start, but it gets better, albeit somewhat sappily better. And - gratuitous WonderBaby photos!
I was thirteen years old when my grandmother, my mother’s mother, died. I was devastated. She had been as much my friend and my ally as she had been my grandmother: she conspired with me to find magic in every corner, to find excitement and adventure in every moment of the day. I adored her.
At the time, I found it difficult to understand that she was gone for good. I remained convinced in my heart, for some time, that I would find her again, somehow, that I would encounter her at a bus stop or in a café, that someday I would turn a corner and she would be there, again. The finality of death was beyond my psychic grasp: it just wasn’t possible that someone I loved so much could just be gone, forever gone. That she ceased to be present in my world did not, it seemed to me, stand as proof that she had ceased to be. I could not comprehend, with my whole soul, the concept of ceasing to be. I was still attached to her, and so – I felt - she still must be. I understood mortality, but I did not feel that understanding in my heart and in my soul, and so I did not understand death, really.
Fear of death, to me, was fear of loss, the disappearance of someone from the landscape of my life, the alteration of that landscape forever. My fear of death is, I realized this week, still this: fear of loss, fear of altered landscape.
My husband said to me, this week, as we reflected upon the shadow of death over our landscape – my (step)grandmother in a coma, the diagnosis of skin cancer in my mother, my nephew’s continual decline – that he was feeling the weight of his own mortality. That all this talk of death was increasing that weight, a weight, he said, that seemed to have fallen heavily upon him in the very moment that his daughter was born.
Time and mortality have taken on a different meaning since we had WonderBaby. Time feels more measured: how old will we be when she starts school? When she finishes school? When (if) she gets married? Has children of her own? Will we be here? We so badly want to be here. The fear of death that lurks in our hearts is a fear of absence, of a forced exile from her life, of missing that life. Part of my reaction to the sudden appearance of the shadow of death in the lives of my grandparents and my mother was rooted in exactly this fear: they will miss her, they are missing her, this distance in time and space is a sort of exile and the time for overcoming it is drawing short.
The fear that is provoked by my nephew’s condition is somewhat different, but not unrelated. I fear, deeply, the loss of him. But the deeper, stronger fear – the deeper, stronger sadness – is of his loss, the loss of his future. The foreshortening of his horizon, the erasure of his landscape. The greatest loss, when he dies, will not be mine or my sister’s or WonderBaby’s – it will be his. This is what hurts the heart, provokes the fear, draws the shadows closer. This is what every parent fears – the loss of the promise of such a beautiful life, the unfolding of a horizon drawn short.
But what I was reminded of this week – by my mother, who wisely pointed out to me that love is stronger than distance, than loss, than fear, and by my friends (by you, such precious friends), who have been gathering their trumpets to demonstrate that love blares louder than any fear (more on this on Monday) – was that death can shrink in the face of love. If not in fact, then at least in spirit.
(Banal, I know, but don’t the insights of the heart usually sound banal? They sometimes have a tinny ring when spoken aloud, a dull weight when plotted across the page. But they feel warm in the heart, and that’s what matters to me right now.)
My grandmother is in a coma, my mother is being treated for skin cancer and my nephew has a terminal illness. These facts are inescapable. But the pain and fear that could attend these facts is escapable. I needn’t dwell on the inevitability of loss; I needn’t dwell on the threat of pain. With my nephew in particular, there is a life, a now, to be celebrated (a life that we will always celebrate, even when the now has passed.) There’s love. There’s a lot of love.
I understand death, now, no better than I did when I was a child; I cannot fully reconcile my head and my heart to loss. I know that I have no control over death – I will die, my child will die, we all will die, there will be loss, inevitably, we will face loss. But I know this, too: I do have some control over life, over how much joy I put into it and pull out of it. I have control over love.
I cannot breach the distance of death, but I can extend love over any distance. I can love to the moon and then around the stars and back again. I can love to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, to the level of everday's most quiet need. I can love higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide.*
Love has its own distance. I can control that distance, extend it as far across time and space as my heart allows. Those distances are great – wonderfully, powerfully, blessedly great.
*(I can borrow fragments of poetry from Browning and Cummings.)
(I'll be back up and visiting this weekend, as my spirits are somewhat restored. I've missed you. Sorry that I haven't kept up with all of YOUR lives.
And, big, wonderful things are afoot this coming week. Fantastic, heart-bursting things. Check back Monday.)
Okay, so it's not Monday, but here it is: the awesomest friends in the world, led by the super-awesome Kristen and Julie, decided that they would do something awesome to make my world seem a little less unawesome and here's what they came up with:
It's a super-awesome amazing project, an auction with items donated from across the blogosphere and beyond, with all proceeds going to the Canadian Muscular Dystrophy Association in Tanner's name.
I'll have more to say about this tomorrow, much more. 'Til then, go check it out, and plan your bidding. And feel all warm and fuzzy about just how extraordinary people can be.