But yesterday I wasn’t running in the old gym, I was just walking across. I was carrying my handbag and my work tote and my breakfast and a hundred pieces of outerwear because it is cold, so cold in this late-arriving winter. I had my cell phone out because that’s the only spot that has reception, and I called Sweetie to see how her mom was doing.I heard Sweetie say, “She died.”
I fell down onto that soft floor then. I dropped all my bags and packages, my slippery coat and long scarf. I fell down onto the ground stunned not just by the news but by my experience of it, by the suddenness of pain in the middle of a tired workaday morning. I fell down in sadness for Sweetie’s sadness, for the fact of marriage that ties us one to another and makes her pain my own. I fell down in astonishment that, again, I would be grieving.Turns out that our in-laws become our families too, the motley crews connected to the one we love become our own beloveds. Sixteen years ago, I wasn’t looking for another cranky, nutty old lady; or a heap of funny, hulking brothers, a generous older sister, a couple of get-it-done sisters-in-law, some nutty nieces and a few shy and handsome nephews. I was looking for love in the big city; I was looking for the one to share my solitude.
My Sweetie, the quiet loner living simply in one room in the East Village, turned out to hail from a tribe of quiet loners. And now my life is littered with brothers and others, enriched by a cranky old Yankee and diminished by her dwindling and dying. Now I have more people to love. Now I have more people to lose.As I knelt on that floor in my sudden weeping, a graduate student I know only by sight came to me: young, and clear eyed and completely present. It was the first offering of presence and compassion that came to me in my grief, but the kindness keeps coming. The love that surrounds us was tangible in the eight families I could think of to help with Small if we needed overnight care, in the offers of food, in the concrete favors, in the phone ringing off the hook, in the gentleness of my colleagues and the Kitchen Man.
When I’m angry, I run. I hate everyone. I run until the poison seeps out in my sweat, until my heart pounds like a drum, until I am too tired to be angry anymore. In the early morning I run in the dark because I don’t know where the switches are; I run while the ballet students wander in for the morning barre class. I crank up the punk rockers on my IPod, their snarls matching the venom in my soul. Bikini Kill comes on and I think, “Except Jender. I don’t hate Jender.”This little spot of—not even love, of not-hate—sets a wedge in my icy heart. I open a tiny crack. I remember that even at my most hateful, even at my darkest and most broken, when the rage flows hard, there are those to whom I would reach out a hand.
These days there seems to be less and less distance between that grudging realization and the knowledge that I love, and am loved, all the time. There seems to be less distinction between the handpicked few who I can tolerate in my orbit and a sense of general goodwill towards people. I see in the clear eyes of the graduate student, hear in the soft voice of my colleague, that we are all caught in the bonds of love, each of us vulnerable to loss and brokenness. I know that my sweetheart’s family is my own. I know that love is what we get and it is enough.On my way home, tears on my cheeks, I stopped to let the Little Family cross the street. The Solstice baby with the piano fingers was tight on Papa’s chest, the parents held each other’s hands. “More love is more love,” is Sarah Buttenweiser’s mantra for open adoption, but more and more I find it the aching truth of all our lives. More love is more love. Fall down on your knees. You are not alone.
Another re-write might have found room for a quote from the Reverend Kate Braestrup, Unitarian Universalist, about how highly she thinks of falling down as a grief response.
You should also check out the songs, of course.Slaid Cleaves, Temporary
Bikini Kill, Rebel Girl
Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone