The days have been cold and wet and have been for some time. One gets these middle-of-the-night thoughts...the one last night was, if not surprising or particularly new, enlightening to me. I suppose transcribing Betty and my letters for the new book I am putting together has placed me back in time. A recognition about how the closest and most important people in our lives move away. Moments that you felt somehow eternal, are transient. They cannot last. People are transient. Losing touch with Betty for twenty-nine years struck that chord. We could not have been closer, and yet that friendship inhabited a particular time in life, and then it ended. I can think of so many other people. She was an unknown by then. It makes it clearer to me what the Buddhists' say about loss, being in the now, and letting go. We do let go, but sometimes it takes time. More to the point seems to be that one can't assume that we will be tied together by virtue of a time spent together forever. There is no forever on this plane. Those ties will loosen and float away. Most often I accept that, as others do. We go on with our lives, remembering sometimes vaguely of those ties which for a period of time bound us to each other. That became clearer to me in the darkness of last night. We are no more, except maybe an occasional surfacing memory that will bring that time back to them or to me, for a moment. That particular kind of loss doesn't always feel real, until it does, and when it does, I understand completely the journey we travel on. The connections we have made and then have let go of. The memory of certain times from a backward look can be visceral and immediate, but no longer have the ability to stay or ever be again. There is sadness in this recognition, but the truth of loss of each moment of our lives that ended when that moment ended is what it is. Life IS immediate. What occupies me now will be over as it is being lived. We will step from each of our now moments to the next now moment. The parade of time really does move forward. You can stand in one place and you will still be moving. Now becomes then just like that. THEN...is now a memory. It no longer exists. It is a "was", a has- been. It will never happen AGAIN...If I counted and contemplated the seconds of my life, I would be struck deeply by the meaning of time, the filling of time. The movement of time. The inevitable change. We are not static. That's the realization which while not very clever, became very real and an amazing understanding that went towards acceptance.
The interesting thing is that now I have a different view. When I was young I was impatient for my future to begin, and now I am stuck in the life that already was. I have traveled through many years, seen every season many, many times. Sitting here on my tiny deck, a witness to so many decades swirling around my mind, I feel the full weight of those years. I moved through some of them with eyes half closed—at other times fully engaged in the demand that I take part in finding my particular place and recognizing all the reasons for needing to be here, discovering with some relief, that after all, none of this will matter in one hundred years.
"In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space" Joan Didion
From David Whyte;s book: Collision:
HEARTBREAK is unpreventable; the natural outcome of caring for people and things over which we have no control...Heartbreak begins the moment we are asked to let go but cannot, in other words, it colors and inhabits and magnifies each and every day; heartbreak is not a visitation, but a path that human beings follow through even the most average life. Heartbreak is an indication of our sincerity: in a love relationship, in a life's work, in trying to learn a musical instrument, in the attempt to shape a better more generous self. Heartbreak is the beautifully helpless side of love and affection and is [an] essence and emblem of care... Heartbreak has its own way of inhabiting time and its own beautiful and trying patience in coming and going.
I would simply like to reclaim an old and, alas, quite unfashionable private formula: Moderate enjoyment is double enjoyment. And: Do not overlook the little joys!In certain circles [moderation] requires courage to miss a première. In wider circles it takes courage not to have read a new publication several weeks after its appearance. In the widest circles of all, one is an object of ridicule if one has not read the daily paper. But I know people who feel no regret at exercising this courage.Let not the man* who subscribes to a weekly theater series feel that he is losing something if he makes use of it only every other week. I guarantee: he will gain.
Let anyone who is accustomed to looking at a great many pictures in an exhibition try just once, if he is still capable of it, spending an hour or more in front of a single masterpiece and content himself with that for the day. He will be the gainer by it.
Let the omnivorous reader try the same sort of thing. Sometimes he will be annoyed at not being able to join in conversation about some publication; occasionally he will cause smiles. But soon he will know better and do the smiling himself. And let any man who cannot bring himself to use any other kind of restraint try to make a habit of going to bed at ten o’clock at least once a week. He will be amazed at how richly this small sacrifice of time and pleasure will be rewarded.
In Simone deBeauvoir's autobiography, ALL SAID AND DONE, 1972, she talks about something that I have often contemplated and indeed experienced. Her words capture this experience far better than I can:
"Every morning, even before I open my eyes, I know I am in my bedroom and my bed. But if I go to sleep after lunch in the room where I work, sometimes I wake up with a feeling of childish amazement — why am I myself? What astonishes me, just as it astonishes a child when he becomes aware of his own identity, is the fact of finding myself here, and at this moment, deep in this life and not in any other. What stroke of chance has brought this about?
The penetration of that particular ovum by that particular spermatozoon, with its implications of the meeting of my parents and before that of their birth and the births of all their forebears, had not one chance in hundreds of millions of coming about. And it was chance, a chance quite unpredictable in the present state of science, that caused me to be born a woman. From that point on, it seems to me that a thousand different futures might have stemmed from every single movement of my past: I might have fallen ill and broken off my studies; I might not have met Sartre; anything at all might have happened.
Tossed into the world, I have been subjected to its laws and its contingencies, ruled by wills other than my own, by circumstance and by history: it is therefore reasonable for me to feel that I am myself contingent. What staggers me is that at the same time I am not contingent. If I had not been born no question would have arisen: I have to take the fact that I do exist as my starting point. To be sure, the future of the woman I have been may turn me into someone other than myself. But in that case it would be this other woman who would be asking herself who she was. For the person who says “Here am I” there is no other coexisting possibility. Yet this necessary coincidence of the subject and his history is not enough to do away with my perplexity. My life: it is both intimately known and remote; it defines me and yet I stand outside it."
"Nevertheless, this meaning does not cover all that is signified by communication. For example, consider a dialogue. In such a dialogue, when one person says something, the other person does not in general respond with exactly the same meaning as that seen by the first person. Rather, the meanings are only similar and not identical. Thus, when the second person replies, the first person sees a difference between what he meant to say and what the other person understood. On considering this difference, he may then be able to see something new, which is relevant both to his own views and to those of the other person. And so it can go back and forth, with the continual emergence of a new content that is common to both participants. Thus, in a dialogue, each person does not attempt to make common certain ideas or items of information that are already known to him. Rather, it may be said that the two people are making something in common, i.e., creating something new together.
But of course such communication can lead to the creation of something new only if people are able freely to listen to each other, without prejudice, and without trying to influence each other. Each has to be interested primarily in truth and coherence so that he is ready to drop his old ideas and intentions and be ready to go on to something different when this is called for." David Bohm
Buber’s philosophy of dialogue views the human existence in two fundamentally different kinds of relations: I-It relations and I-Thou relations. An I-It relation is the normal everyday relation of a human being toward his or her surroundings. A person can also view another person as an It, and often does so by viewing others from a distance. In the I-Thou relation the individual enters into the relationship with another human with his or herentire being. This relationship becomes an intimate meeting, a real dialogue between both partners. Buber saw this as a reflection of the encounter between the human being and God. The I-Thou relationship allows for dialogue between the human being and God.
My friend, I am not what I seem. Seeming is but a garment I wear — a care-woven garment that protects me from thy questionings and thee from my negligence. The “I” in me, my friend, dwells in the house of silence, and therein it shall remain for ever more, unperceived, unapproachable.
The “friend” Gibran addresses is the idealized self, the self we present to the world, the aspirational self of who we would like to be rather than who we are — a self that invariably obscures our incompleteness and imperfection, which are the wellspring of our richest humanity. Gibran writes:
My friend, thou art good and cautious and wise; nay, thou art perfect — and I, too, speak with thee wisely and cautiously. And yet I am mad. But I mask my madness. I would be mad alone. My friend, thou art not my friend, but how shall I make thee understand? My path is not thy path, yet together we walk, hand in hand.
When I cannot resolve what is happening, or what has happened in the past, when I can't say clearly to anyone what I am feeling, then it is only in writing that I find my voice. That is why I write. To extract what I otherwise find hard to comprehend at once. I can dig out of the recesses of my consciousness, that which I already know and explore it with a depth that is unavailable otherwise. Writing whether memoir or fiction is a long slow journey. We are explorers of the human condition at large and of our own personal self. Our attempt-- my attempt, is to find what makes us most human.
I have used "self" as a way of making what I write something that hopefully is a universal truth. I hope I have written characters with compassion, even when they are flawed, even those I perceive as having done me harm. It is the personal experiences we write about which help us discover a small truth about ourselves and a bigger truth about our world. When I write in the first person, I think I may be revealed. Or that someone will recognize themselves. and when i manage to write without fear of having to be safe I have the chance of finding that amazing moment, the thing that turns on every light in the house while the sun still shines.
"The world is a better place to live in because it contains human beings who will give up ease and security and stake their own lives in order to do what they themselves think worth doing. They help to offset the much larger numbers who are ready to sacrifice the ease and the security and the very lives of others in order to do what they want done. "
“To lament that we shall not be alive a hundred years hence, is the same folly as to be sorry we were not alive a hundred years ago,” Montaigne observed in his sixteenth-century meditation on death and the art of living. “The greatest dignity to be found in death is the dignity of the life that preceded it,” the late surgeon and bioethicist Sherwin Nuland wrote half a millennium later in his foundational treatise on mortality.
Oliver Sacks (July 9, 1933–August 30, 2015
Oliver Sacks by Bill Hayes
"I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death."
"In the end, all forgiveness is self-forgiveness. It shakes loose the calcification that accumulates around our hearts. Then love can flow more freely.
It's a radical form of self-acceptance that allows us to release the holding on that has caused us unbelievable pain. It’s about realizing that as long as you hold onto the hot coal of your anger, resentment, and sense of having been wronged, you are only hurting yourself. Unless you release that burden, you will carry it with you for the rest of your life. You will never be free." "Forgiveness is for the forgiver" (sent to me by Colleen Gray Author unknown
"I had believed that I was leaving nothing out of account, like a rigorous analyst; I had believed that I knew the state of my own heart. But our intelligence, however lucid, cannot perceive the elements that compose it and remain unsuspected so long as, from the volatile state in which they generally exist, a phenomenon capable of isolating them has not subjected them to the first stages of solidification. I had been mistaken in thinking that I could see clearly into my own heart. But this knowledge, which the shrewdest perceptions of the mind would not have given me, had now been brought to me, hard, glittering, strange, like a crystallised salt, by the abrupt reaction of pain." Marcel Proust
Olivia Laing from her book: "Lonely City"
"Loss is a cousin of loneliness. They intersect and overlap, and so it’s not surprising that a work of mourning might invoke a feeling of aloneness, of separation. Mortality is lonely. Physical existence is lonely by its nature, stuck in a body that’s moving inexorably towards decay, shrinking, wastage and fracture. Then there’s the loneliness of bereavement, the loneliness of lost or damaged love, of missing one or many specific people, the loneliness of mourning.'".
Sonnet XCIV. by Pablo Neruda
If I die, survive me with such sheer force
that you waken the furies of the pallid and the cold,
from south to south lift your indelible eyes,
from sun to sun dream through your singing mouth.
I don’t want your laughter or your steps to waiver,
I don’t want my heritage of joy to die.
Don’t call up my person. I am absent.
Live in my absence as if in a house.
Absence is a house so vast
that inside you will pass through its walls
and hang pictures on the air
Absence is a house so transparent
that I, lifeless, will see you, living,
and if you suffer my love, I will die again.
In memory. Dietrich Baeu
BY BIL jOHNSON FROM HIS WEBSITE: BILJOHNSON.COM
A knock on our door at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday is an unusual circumstance. We had heard some door pounding the night before on our neighbor’s door across the hall --- but it wasn’t enough to elicit significant barking from our dog. It happened again this morning and then the knock. Answering, I was met by a young police officer and behind him were the parents (they self-identified) of our young schoolteacher neighbor. They wanted to know if we had seen Kelly yesterday or heard anything from her. We had noticed her car was gone all day, as it always was when she was teaching (we are retired teachers) and was home around 3:30 p.m. on Friday. Beyond that we knew nothing. The officer thanked us and we learned that her parents had gotten a text from her the previous evening that said she wasn’t feeling well.
We shut our door, as you do in the suburbs, and then listened and observed, through our peephole and front window, as police were joined by firefighters to break open the front door. My wife thought she heard a policeman radio “dead body” to someone and an ambulance arrived. EMT’s made a short visit and our neighbor’s family congregated on the sidewalk in front of our house. A priest soon joined them. I waited until the family dispersed and the CMT (which I took to mean Coroner’s Medical Technicians) removed the body (I did not see that --- only viewed their van, here and then gone) before taking the dog out for her morning walk. The young policeman and the priest, in a “The Sermanator” baseball cap, were the only ones left out front. By the time I returned with the dog, the priest was leaving and I asked the policeman what had happened. He assured me there was no foul play and that Kelly had nothing serious in her medical records. I asked if suicide was a possibility and he ruled that out --- no evidence to believe that. A heart attack? An aneurism? We would have to wait to find out.
The rest of the day was odd for us, with Kelly’s Subaru parked (as it always was, when she was home) right in front of our unit. It was hard to look at it and not remember the hundreds of times in the past three years I had seen her getting in and out of that car, the countless times we exchanged small talk about weather and teaching and the wonder of vacations. And, just like that, it would never happen again.
I remember reading about our ancient ancestors, cave people of some sort, and what it must have been like the first time they experienced death in their tribe. Finding a lifeless body where, only hours before, it had been a living, breathing person. What kind of confusion and mind-numbing loss did they feel? Death intrudes in our daily lives in the news --- but it is a detached and distant event. When it is your neighbor across the hall --- a vibrant 36-year-old human being --- and there doesn’t seem to be a reason, it is more than baffling. It reminds us in the most dramatic way of how tentative our grasp on life is, how fleeting it can be. I am almost twice Kelly’s age. Why her and not me? What kinds of cards are dealt that way? And what are we, who are left, to make of it. I am as dumbfounded as that cave dweller and there is a sense of loss that is difficult to describe. We were not “friends,” really --- we were neighbors (I had never ever been in her condo unit, but only guessed it was a mirror image of ours). We had fleeting, friendly, pleasant conversations and did neighborly favors for one another (“Can you take our newspapers in while we’re on vacation?” “I signed for your package from UPS”). Yet there is now some hole in the life of our community, a loss that is quite ineffable.
Writing has always been a source of release and comfort for me. There are times, despite my verbosity, I am at a genuine loss for spoken words. This is one of those times. I was not a friend, so I won’t grieve but I do feel a loss that I can’t really express in spoken words. So this is my requiem to a soul that has left us for reasons we will never understand and certainly at far too young an age to make any sense. We will watch the grieving parents remove belongings from her home, and eventually drive that car away, and probably, at some point, sell the unit to a new neighbor. Time is strangely elastic in moments like this and telescoping ahead doesn’t really make the present feel any better. The world will move on. We’re sure her students will severely grieve the loss of a beloved teacher; her family will never fill the hollow that must be, at present, a crater. We are on the outside but close enough to feel the loss of one of our own, a good person now gone and irreplaceable. This is one of those instances that really makes me aware of being not very smart at all --- there is no (rational) sense to be made of such an event.
April 10, 2016 . Bil Johnson . Connecticut
I closed the door by expunging all the little keyholes that were still open, I asked that he forgive me. My temptations were no worse than the ones he had suffered from and had acted upon, no worse than his own declarations It was His own temptation that led me on this journey and I am never sure he realized the extent of his trespass into my life. He died for me yesterday, but the mourning continues. I obviously died for him some time ago and he moved on and away, no wish to look back. Now even my good memories are sullied by my own hand. it was the extent to which I was able to move into the dark and morbid world I allowed myself to explore. I haven't learned the lesson of being here, just being. I am history-onlynow--a memory. But the worst part is that even those memories are tarnished irrevocable and I was the one who tarnished them. It should have been him. I was the righteous one. I once had honor on my side, but no longer. I consciously stepped over the line, and then without watching my own back, I allowed to happen what did happen This is a stinging lesson. His forgiveness would give me back some dignity, some acknowledgement that he had the capacity to understand my pain, and hope only that I find a different path. I asked for it, And he eventually accepted my apology with an emoji of a happy face. preview of a short story.
“Nourish yourself with grand and austere ideas of beauty that feed the soul… Seek solitude,” young Delacroix counseled himself in 1824. Keats saw solitude as a sublime conduit to truth and beauty. Elizabeth Bishop believed that everyone should experience at least one prolonged period of solitude in life. Even if we don’t take so extreme a view as artist Agnes Martin’s assertion that “the best things in life happen to you when you’re alone,” one thing is certain: Our capacity for what psychoanalyst Adam Phillips has termed “fertile solitude” is absolutely essential not only for our creativity but for the basic fabric of our happiness — without time and space unburdened from external input and social strain, we’d be unable to fully inhabit our interior life, which is the raw material of all art.
Ran across this poem and loved the last lines.
BY KATE WALDMAN
Death is a lack, I suppose,
and love more so. One day
(it hurts to think of it),
we may not know each other’s faces.
But I will not falter.
I will drive here alone,
release you into air.
My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.
But I also tell [my students] that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. Writing this way is a little like milking a cow: the milk is so rich and delicious, and the cow is so glad you did