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My hold on equanimity is precarious. I’m fixated on “Jake’s totally off the grid, if he’s alive and well.”
The implication is that he probably is not alive.
This supposition does not bring closure because there’s no body.
When others suppose your son could be dead, it only just barely penetrates your awareness. You can think the thoughts, but the actual possibility sits on the periphery, like the time your mother told you her cancer had metastasized and you were surprised when she died because you had this membrane of denial protecting you.
Except that membrane now has a couple of tears in it, and images of what could have happened to your son ooze in and take root and grow until all you see in your mind are barrels of acid, withered, leathery flesh, white bones, ragged t-shirts and holey shoes, a lone skeleton propped against a tree in meager shade.
It’s not just that he is dead. It’s how he died. Where he died. If he died.
When your son might be dead, you grieve and hope simultaneously.
The boy I swore to protect, my beloved young son–vibrant, lifeless, vibrant, lifeless, vibrant, lifeless.
I saw a license plate frame two days ago that tore the membrane: The best mothers graduate to be grandmothers.
Another mom’s celebration just tore my denial veil.
And again, I’m reminded of my mother. When she wrote about my decision to give a baby up for adoption many years ago, she described “grandmother empties.” But adoption is not death.
A disappearance is not death, and neither is another person’s supposition.
This is a comfort, this tiny flickering flame.
It’s wondrous that it has not been doused. It’s like one of those unkillable candles that you hate to have on your birthday cake.
I don’t usually tell people I’m praying for them because I think practical help is a better way to show love and support. But I accept and respect that others are praying for me because I sense this. I’m a strong person, but I can’t manufacture inner peace. I can meditate, but we’ve seen where my thoughts go. I’m dealing with monstrous grief and I have questionable coping skills and I have this inextinguishable flame. If you are praying for me, thank you.
I have no idea what will transpire. I cannot affect the physical outcome. I’m helpless, and I’m a reminder that we all are. But Viktor Frankl reminds me that I have the freedom to find meaning in the midst of my suffering. He states that even in the most miserable circumstances life has meaning. And he himself lived this truth when he was in a concentration camp. I’m living it now. Just as Jake is irreplaceable, so am I.
I have found that making quilts grounds me, so that’s what I do in my spare time.
Here is one I completed for my beloved Aunt Nancy:
I haven’t written, but this ain’t me:
By vice of hermitry, I rarely venture out of the house unless I absolutely must. I’ve become a hermit because of grief, and I’ve yet to ascertain whether this is to my detriment.
Today I was reminded of the outside world and others who care about Jake, and me, to some degree by association.
The handle on the shut-off valve to our water tank broke this morning, which I knew would mean I’d need to go out in the heat, so I mentally lumped the task with other errands. But it turned out I didn’t need to because today was our water delivery day. But that’s not the cool thing. (Jake has not been found.)
When I took the handle out to inquire about how to get it fixed, I was told that our regular guy had called in, but he, Robert, would see to it that the info was passed on. As he was climbing down the ladder from filling the tank, he said, “I have an odd question for you.” I braced myself, thinking, “Oh, heavens, he saw the kitchen.” He stood carefully, like he was braced, too, and he said, “You have an unusual last name, so I’m wondering if you’re related to this guy I worked with.”
It took me couple of beats to move from Bodus to Furrer, and then I knew he meant Jake. “At the mine, you mean?” I asked.
He nodded. “He taught me some. I didn’t know him well, but, you know, sometimes we had 12-hour shifts in the truck.”
He didn’t realize that Jake was still missing, so I caught him up and gave him the URL here (http://onegirlriot.com/about-stacy/info-on-search-for-jake/) so he could stay abreast if he wished. Before he got back in his truck, he said, “I guess I should tell you this. Jake used to talk about getting back to basics, so you know, maybe that’s what he did.”
My takeaway: this was an enormous God-hug. The synchronicity delights me: regular guy calls in, my handle breaks, which prompts me to go talk to the new guy, new guy worked with Jake. I wouldn’t have gone out there if that dumb handle hadn’t snapped in my hands.
This situation is still difficult. I ache every day from the not-knowing and the fact that I do not have my son in my life at all. It also hurts that, if he is not dead, I am part of what he sought to escape. No mother wants that. I would have given him space if I had known, which I believe he understood, but I’m part of the community so ….
If you’re reading this, ever, Jake: I love you and hope you are safe and content.
There’s a way for you to reach out to me or anyone and remain unfound:
This song captures my heart for my sons. (Songwriter-performer Kelis wrote it for her son, who is in the last scene.)
Some of the lyrics:
I was walking, was living
My melody was acapella
There’s a beat I was missing
No tune or a scale I could play
The sound in the distance
No orchestra playing together
Like a boat out to sea
The silence was too deafening
My whole life was acapella
Now a symphony’s
The only song to sing
My whole life was acapella
Now a symphony’s
The only song to sing”
Even when they’re missing, they’re part of the symphony. It doesn’t matter where they are, your song will never again be acapella. My own symphony has music from the unknown and the known, and I am thankful.
I have to get up early tomorrow and do range duty as Chief Range Safety Officer for a group of men visiting from out of town. I’ve been doing RSO duties for a long time now, and this is not a big deal.
But I do not want to go. I would rather hole up at home and sew or read or binge-watch something that takes me out of the ache for a while. I don’t want to engage with people, and I definitely don’t want to get up early. Twice I’ve picked up the phone to call Skip, our scheduler, to beg off with the excuse that my heart hurts. He would then have to scramble to find another RSO, but he wouldn’t complain because he feels badly for me and he doesn’t want to add to the weight I carry.
Twice I’ve put the phone down, partly because I don’t want to cause extra work, but mostly because I know that once I get there I’ll be fine. I’ll be in the moment, I’ll enjoy being with the shooters, and I’ll have gotten out of the house. All I have to do is show up.
That’s all I ever have to do, and it’s the hardest decision to make. Sometimes I have to choose it every five minutes.
The last six months have been unaccountably difficult and lately I’ve been faced with the growing possibility that Jake is dead. I think about it every day, and the world looks so…barren inside the idea of no Jake on the planet.
Right now, I deal by showing up. I commit to things knowing that later I probably will wish I’d kept my calendar free. But I also know that just showing up works for me.
I have used emotional pain as an excuse not to show up before. I don’t any more because showing up feels better than not. (Seriously. Beating myself up for letting others down makes it worse.)
I keep thinking of the link between perseverance and strength, and this is true for me, here: “…tribulation brings about perseverance;4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5: 3b-5
And James 1:3: “The testing of your faith produces endurance.”
Well, I also think that trials and suffering produce resignation. I’m not a fan.
But I recognize strength.
The problem, for me, is that I have to wonder what’s next. I’m getting stronger for what?
My character could always use the refinement, but dang. Can’t we find a way that doesn’t involve pain?
I have never been able to open up those Pillsbury roll cans. I have walked outside and gone to a neighbor’s house and asked someone to open the can out of my earshot and then bring it back to me on the porch. I cannot bear not knowing when the can will pop. (I quit buying them. I’m sure the neighbors appreciate that.)
Heretofore I’ve been an eager watcher of suspense flicks, and now, if I hear the first note of tell-tale music dread marches up the skin of my arms to my throat and I have to plug my ears. I’ve been known to bolt from my seat to pace during scary parts of movies. Now I can’t bear suspenseful music, or the threat of physical violence–the threat, mind you. Not the actual violence. Once it’s happening I can relax.
I connect it to my not being able to know what has happened to my son. I have no control over that, and the longer he is missing, the worse the suspense is getting.
Today I talked with a colleague about some things I’m doing in my classes, and she said, “Oh, THAT’s why you’re here at work. You’re passionate about it.” She explained that she could see how focusing on work was helping me to deal with my ordeal.
I was relieved to hear this perspective because I’ve been feeling like there’s something wrong with me that I’m not massively depressed. I love my son, and I am fractured and fragile. I feel like a train wreck, and I think the journey’s miles are heavy on my face. I saw it today when I looked in the mirror. I’m old and gray today. You don’t get frequent flyer miles this way, but you do get some perspective.
Viktor Frankl writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Frankl’s words of wisdom have helped me to maintain perspective.
Here are some more, all from Man’s Search for Meaning:
- “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.”
- “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.”
- “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
And I pray.
This is a hideous circumstance, but I see grace in my work, in my friends, in my beloved son, Josh, and husband, Tom.
Often I’m angry and despairing at how unfair this is. It is unfair.
But it’s also unfair for the woman whose toddler died on the beach.
It’s unfair for the woman whose daughter was killed by a hit-and-run driver.
It’s unfair for the woman whose son is suffering from neuroblastoma and may die any day now.
Viktor Frankl has this to say, too: “The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
In love there is grace.
And I’m surrounded by both. Even when I can’t see it.
I’m taking care of myself by being open about my state of mind. If you ask me how I am, I will tell you the truth: not good. I am sad. And tired. I cry every day. I keep remembering all the times I could have been a better mother. No, I am not okay. But I am not depressed.
That seems oxymoronic.
Jake’s birthday is coming up. If I could take it to the neighbor’s house, I would.
“Pop this sucker open, wouldja? But wait till I’m down the block.”
I’m thinking out loud here.
I waffle about posting about what I’m thinking and feeling about my son being missing. I am not adding any new information, and much of what I share is about what I deal with emotionally day by day. It’s repetitive. The grief never subsides, although my awareness of it ebbs and flows.
I ultimately choose to post about it because I don’t have another safe outlet to talk about this ordeal. And right now I’m giving myself this little note to remind myself that I have permission to be repetitive, to grieve through the written word, to write the things that keep me up at night. I have to do this because I inevitably second-guess myself and castigate myself for not shutting up. And I’m doing this for anyone else who can relate.
So: lately I’ve been sleepless and preoccupied with questions I can’t get answers to. I cannot shut my brain down.
- Where is my son? This is an obvious, simple question, but thinking about it and trying to answer it take up much of my brain time. I still search ditch banks. This is a reflexive action; I cannot help myself. My brain says, “No, you might have missed something the last time you looked. Look again.” I drive down alleys. I scope out the local cemeteries. And I still check the unidentified persons database. I’ve managed to put some days between my searches, but for nearly a year I was checking every day. My brain says, “Many volunteers contribute to this database. You have to stay abreast of the new. Check again.” I have stopped short of volunteering to work for the database and help them add more unidentified bodies. It’s tempting to think that I would have more control over this horrible circumstance if I were helping in that way. It is not off the table.
- Is my son dead? This also takes up a lot of brain time. I’m not thinking it when I’m searching, nor when I’m teaching, nor when I’m engaged in any of the stuff I do to mute the agitated neurons. (I’ve signed up for a lot: Kiwanis activities, organizing an upcoming teacher conference, writing projects, teaching and research, enrolling in graduate classes, reading, someday-quilting, and Clash Royale.) This is also when I tap my inner tape that says, “It’s easier to disappear on purpose than by accident.” It doesn’t matter that I don’t fully believe it. It temporarily sedates.I don’t fully believe it because my son’s smart enough to do it right. The one real comfort I have is that he did not seem to be thinking clearly before he disappeared.
- Is my son homeless and helpless? In the summer I worry that he doesn’t have water or shelter to get out of the heat. I know he hates being hot as much as I do. We both have metabolisms that make us radiate heat. We are always hot, and the summer is particularly miserable for us. Is his face sunburned? Does he have athlete’s foot and jock itch? Does he have soap and toothpaste and deodorant? Is he thinking he smells like garbage, or is he past caring? Does he have coherent thoughts? When he was in high school he found errors in his calculus book, used Legos to build puzzling geometric problems, and went by the online name of 2brncells1gun. When he worked at the mine, someone asked him if they used fresh water or saltwater to excavate, and he answered, “I don’t know. I’ve never tasted it.Is that Jake apparent to anyone around him now?
I worry now that winter is at the door because toes and fingers need protecting. Heads need covering. Weak bodies suffer more.
Is he wearing a coat when it’s cold?
Does he have those cursed small boots on, still? Is he punishing himself?
Is he sleeping under a bus station bench and getting kicked by people who hate homeless people?
Does he have dirty hair and a dirty beard and grungy clothes that disgust people when they see him?
Does he get rained on and then have stiff frozen clothes when it freezes overnight?Is he wearing a trash bag over his clothes?
- Is my need to know where my son is more important than his right to be left alone? Am I invading his privacy by writing about him? Am I keeping him away because he is afraid everyone will shame him? If I shut up will he come home? If I do everything perfectly will he appear? Oh, toxic thinking.
- How can I best love my son? Am I doing it correctly now? When did I do it right? What did that look like? Is it too late?
- Do I have to parade my faith for it to be evident? I can’t make myself do that. I believe there’s a bigger picture that I can’t see. I believe I am not singled out for suffering. I believe that talking about my suffering gives others permission to talk about theirs. I think that is unconditional love in action. I believe that those pockets of indescribable peace come from trusting God. I think perhaps I don’t blurt my faith walk because I fail so much. If I trusted God more I’d have more peace, y’know? I worry about this because I think it’s built in me to worry about what people think. I need more songs to pipe into my brain to help me shed that habit.
- Today, a new question: How can I help other mothers? I grieve over suffering children, and today on Twitter I saw the link below.This is happening right now: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-13/yemen-blockade:-sick-and-starving-trapped/9143140
A few days ago, “…at al-Sabheen hospital in the capital, the ABC’s producer in Sanaa witnessed more than a dozen emaciated babies and toddlers receiving treatment in the
malnutrition ward. Their tiny skeletal bodies are evidence of the dire food crisis that is overwhelming this country” (Mcneill).I found this: http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/06/world/iyw-yemen-resource-list/index.html
And this: https://www.mercycorps.org/articles/nigeria-somalia-south-sudan-yemen/quick-facts-what-you-need-know-about-famine
It feels so small. I feel so small. And I wish I could see the actual help.
I hope others will join me in this.
We are small. And we matter even when it doesn’t feel like we do.
*Jake has not been found. Thank you for checking.
I’ve spent the morning looking at the NamUs Unidentified Persons System.
Please understand. I don’t start my days with, “Gee, what can I do to skew my day?” I try to avoid thinking of these databases. But I got an email from the site informing me that I needed to update my user info. Trouble is when I get in there I am compelled to poke around.
I did a search with skimpy parameters so as to pull up the most unidentified bodies, and so far I’ve viewed 10-15 records. I checked the coordinates for the entry that flipped me out weeks ago, and discovered that the coordinates and the reported city don’t match. The body was found just north of the rest stop before Felicity, not in Ocotillo. This, however, still does not rule Jake out. I don’t know how they calculated the height or ethnicity. I so wish they explained the scientific process so I could determine probabilities. Hispanic? How could they know from just the bones? I understand more easily how one could extrapolate height from the femur, but I don’t know that’s what they did, and if one assumption is made, then others are likely. And I can’t tell if they made assumptions because I don’t know their processes. And this location is a little ways off the I-8, and Jake was on foot….
I’m still awaiting news regarding the DNA samples. Nothing to do but wait.
So why not look at more unidentified body records.
None of the cases I read resembled Jake, but I stayed with each record, paying homage in place of those who don’t know where their loved ones are and for the ones who had no one to mourn them. Someone must see these people besides those who have to catalog the bones and belongings. Someone has to be not detached. Sad. I’m sad anyway. I’ll weep for all of them.
I found a record for Obsbaldo Salto Martinez or for someone connected to him and I clicked over to Facebook to see if anything was there. The NamUs Unidentified Persons System is run by volunteers so it’s possible I could actually help. I thought I could also use my genealogy spook skills if I couldn’t find him or his relatives on Facebook.
But when I got to Facebook, I got sidetracked in a lovely way: I saw a message from my son, Josh. This young man FB-messages, texts, or calls me several times through the week. And I’m telling you, this guy knows how his mom ticks. He sends me think-y distracting things about science, history, or politics, or stuff that’ll get under my skin just to engage me, or something like this:
I appreciate this Italian man and his passion to help children, and I appreciate my son for knowing I would love this.
We are all fighting a hard battle.
Love looks like this man.
It looks like all of you who check on me.
It looks like my son.
Love looks like Josh.
Natashia Deón is light. She has a tiny frame, but her laugh has serious heft. You feel it in your chest and want to laugh with her. She is aesthetically stunning; I could look at her face all day long and not get tired of it. But it is her soul that captivates and awes. She does not look at you, or through you, but into you. And she likes what she finds. She likes you, and she wants your story. And by golly, you give it to her.
Her novel, Grace, is the story of a runaway slave girl whose first words to the reader are, “I am dead” (1). This catapults the reader into a riveting story of mothers and daughters, a story that breaks your heart but gives you this: “What’s done is done. Ain’t no justice. Only grace” (186). Buy it at Powell’s Books, or the independent bookseller of your choice.
I had dinner with Natashia recently, and it struck me then that I did most of the talking. About my stuff. I remember thinking, wow, Stace, ask her something about her life. And I think I did, but it came back to me.
I am self-conscious about this, a little, but I forgive myself this time. I’m weighing it as a whole: she’d just spent an hour talking about herself, and about her book, before a large group of students at SDSU-IV. This is exhausting. One needs a break. And my story is interesting, anyway.
I want to say I feel wry, but it’s more that I’m awry, and I should talk more about my stuff. But I’m caught in an in-between. Some might call it a rock and a hard place, but that denotes an inability to move between two hard objects.
My in-betweenness is ethereal; I move between two difficult choices regularly. Don’t talk about the emptiness of having a missing son and thus spare people from feeling helpless, or talk about it and empathize with their helplessness even while I am bereft of true connection. You can’t connect with people who simply feel helpless or sorry for you. They are there and you are here and that in-between space is impermeable. Unless someone knows how to get there.
Natashia sat with me in that space. I think she got there by talking about my writing. She was sad for my experience, but she was determined that I see that I must share it because the stories will light the paths of others. I told her that Babes in the Wood was a harbinger of loss in my family, and she said, “No, Stacy. You are the harbinger here. I see a beautiful bird with many feathers with strands of jewels hanging from it, and that is you.”
Now I am obsessed with bringing this harbinger bird to canvas and to writing pad, and I’ve done some research on kiwis, ostriches, and other flightless birds. Note: Natashia said nothing of flightless birds. She may be imagining a peacock. lol
I’m dismayed by the idea of comparing myself to a fat, flightless bird, although it is funny. Wry again.
I’m also dismayed that the term “flightless bird” is derogatory.
Look at this revolting definition from the urban dictionary:
“A passionless woman who, though superficially attractive and financially independent, is romantically unfulfilled due to emotional underdevelopment.”
However, through further research I uncovered the Inaccessible Island rail. Smallest flightless bird in the world and it lives on Inaccessible Island. What an amazing name.
And the Elephant Bird of Madagascar, now extinct. A terrifying flightless bird. Also large.
And the cassowary which, according to one writer, has “a face perpetually frozen in an expression resembling that of a frat bro who just challenged you to a bar fight” (Gonzalez). Take me on, bro.
I like the idea of flying. ‘Flightless’ has heretofore seemed powerless to me, but now I think, no. Not powerless.
Consider another connotation of flight: Avoidance. Escape. Retreat. Evasion. Never mind that they’re all nouns derived from active, lively verbs and not one of those verbs is related to the soaring verb to fly.
Oh, how I have flown. But this kind of flight isn’t freeing. It’s not even really flying. Fleeing is not flying.
This kind of flight traps you in a loop. You run from what scares you but you can’t get far enough away to feel safe. There is no safe just like there is no justice. But life is as safe as we make it for ourselves. We have control over what we feel and how we perceive the world. We create our experiences even as life thrusts uncontrollable events in our paths. Maybe Harbinger Bird has broken feathers earned in the fray and in the flight. Still beautiful, I say.
Stop and square off, says Harbinger Bird. (I hear this in the voice of Randall, who narrated the Honey Badger video.)
Harbinger Bird. I can dig it.
p.s. Natashia, I’m writing. Thank you.
Note: This flyer is posted after the speaking date.
*Jake has not been found. Thank you for checking.
From Notes from the Universe:
“Raise your sights and broaden your steps.
Because doing one without the other
is the same as doing neither.”
One time, I was advising a security guard student who had been shooting at 3-yard targets and his groups were sufficiently close that I moved his target to about 1-1/2 times the distance. Right away I could tell by the set of his pistol that his sights weren’t properly aligned, and his shots would either hit the bottom of his target or they’d miss entirely. I explained this to him, but he didn’t listen.
He didn’t pass.
He didn’t hit the target at all; his shots were where his aim was, which was nowhere near that target. I saw the dust from where they hit the ground beyond and below the target.
The farther away your target is, the higher you have to raise your sights.
And you may get lucky with closer targets, but any deficiency in your aim will be magnified the farther away your target is.
I tell my students it’s best to practice small distances a LOT.
I advise them to practice 50 rounds at 3-5 yards. Because they can see the target more clearly at that range, it’s easier to correct how they’re squeezing the trigger or gripping the pistol and then see an immediate effect on the target.
Once they’re hitting the target in a consistently small area, then they should move the target back a couple of yards and practice with another 50 rounds, keeping in mind that the farther their target is, the more important their sight picture is.
Ah, I need to take this sighting advice myself for life in general.
I don’t even know what my sight picture is right now because my gaze has been focused on the ground: one step at a time. Get through this minute. This hour. This afternoon. This day. It’s coming up on a year that Jake’s been missing, and I feel like, man, I just got through Christmas.
Every day feels like he just left. Not the event but the shock of it. It’s like I’m always in a daze of traumatic shock. And not even with the blessed numbness that comes with that. The everlasting suck of pain, man.
My birthday is May 1, and then there’s Mother’s Day.
I can’t hide.
Ever since he disappeared I’ve wanted to hide but I can’t because life goes on.
Life is so rude.
It’s saying, “What’re you doing? Get that front sight up.”
I grumble back, “I’ll show you my front sight.”
Here’s another Note from the Universe:
“If you understood the extraordinary gifts
that every single challenge in your life
makes possible, even inevitable,
you’d celebrate your challenges,
new and old alike, as the omens that they are
of new beginnings and spectacular change.”
Celebrate my challenges.
That really feels like a lot to ask.
I don’t know if I can do that here.
But I can pull my gaze from my feet.
And I can get curious about what’s ahead.
I’ve designed my life to be happy and exciting this year, and I’ve purposely stayed involved in the community so I would choose to honor my word instead of my fear. I continue to show up, and through this determined mindset I’ve gained a perspective about what is important to me, and about who loves me.
My friends keep showing up. People I didn’t know were friends keep showing up. My husband always shows up, and so does my son, Josh. I appreciate how each presence shows up differently, whether it’s a persistent invitation, a hug, a funny video in FB messenger, or a small gift. When people show up, I know that I matter and that Jake matters.
I think the “extraordinary gifts” mentioned in the quote not only pertain to insights but also to opportunities. Maybe I can’t celebrate right now, but I can lift my eyes and take longer strides. (Sorry, honey. Only so much these squatty legs can do.)
Upside down is not down. It’s really just a place where you don’t feel in control.
Control’s an illusion, anyway.
So maybe the extraordinary gift in this situation is finally understanding that.
And I can stop screwing myself over.
You gotta watch this vid:
The 5-second rule has helped me abolish about 75% of my procrastinating.
I do still put off doing the dishes.
I’ve been thinking to myself, thinking that I’m not ready for real life to start up again. Apparently my lizard brain thinks that the last two weeks of December are not real life. Dunno what’s up with that. It’s not like I have this starry-eyed notion of Christmas; most times I don’t even like it. I just don’t see the sense in wrapping something I’d rather just hand over with an “I love you.” I also don’t see the sense in waiting all year to give my husband things he’ll love. (He’s the same way. he brings me something cool a couple of times a week.) It could also be that recently Christmas has just been plain difficult and has lost its flavor for me. (right?)
Whatever the case, I’m glad it’s behind me but I’m dreading the upcoming weeks.
I am involved in several activities by design several months ago when I foresaw my state of mind. I’m not happy about that right now. It means I have to participate. Grand jury, Kiwanis, school, writing, quilting. No, I do have to. Of course I may choose not to, but integrity and responsibility require otherwise, which I knew would be the only things that would propel me forward. So I’m thankful that I know myself, but I’m a little short on truly appreciating it right now.
Here’s what I know, why I scheduled these things for myself back then: It’s when you least want to do something that you need it the most.
Case in point: I got hit by the don’t-cares on Wednesday. I’d gotten free tickets to the Book to Screen event at the Palm Springs festival for Tuesday and Wednesday. I was excited to go for a week, and I’d relished the movies on Tuesday–and now in retrospect I see that I avoided conversing with anyone beyond polite howdies. (Seriously. I skirted rooms and stayed close to the walls and avoided eye contact. )
Wednesday promised to be interesting, since authors and screenwriters would be talking about their work. My favorite stuff.
But Wednesday morning I lollygagged and waffled and I was struck by the sudden fear that I would get in a wreck to or from Palm Springs. I finally decided to GO around 11am, surprising my husband, who’d been certain I’d stay, given my ambivalence.
The series began in the morning; I got to Palm Springs at 1:30pm, in time for the fourth talk.
I went for two reasons: integrity/responsibility, and David Ulin. If you’re given $200 tickets, you use them. And David Ulin was moderating a talk on the film, Genius. I didn’t know if I’d get to talk to him, but I really just wanted to hear what he had to say at the symposium. (David was one of my main profs in my MFA program, and it’s his voice I hear when I write or edit.)
I told my husband that I believed I’d get something unexpected out of just showing up, and I did. The talk itself was brilliant and insightful. But beforehand, David stopped to talk with me for about ten minutes, and because of it my faith in myself reawakened. The fact that he took that time to connect underscored his words: What I have to say matters, and my writing resonates–our writing resonates–even when we don’t know it’s connecting with anyone.
I thought about this all day afterward. Why do our stories move others? I’ve been focusing on story more and more in my classes because I believe they move people beyond the superficial recognition of another human being to actual connection with who they are. That toddler in the back of the ambulance in Aleppo moved people in a way that event reportage could not.
What does it mean when something resonates?
I think it’s like your body is an echo chamber that reverberates when it hears a story that has the same emotional weight that the one you’re living has. It doesn’t matter if the stories are exactly the same. Tonally they’re the same. My mother-grief and fear about my missing son is the same as any parent’s grief and fear.
It always takes me aback when people respond to my ordeal with, “What I’m going through is nothing like what you’re going through. Yours is so much worse.”
No, it’s not.
There’s no measuring stick. If it’s ripping you apart it’s your own private hell. There’s no measuring one hell against another. The keen is the same.
That reminds me of a part in 13 Hours when one of the men paraphrases from the Joseph Campbell book he’s reading: “We carry heaven and hell inside us….”
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that we hold eternity in our hearts. So why not heaven and hell?
I found this interesting article about Shakespeare when I sought the exact *reference for Campbell’s quote:
In his greatest works, he strikes a chord with the essence of the human existence. Shakespeare causes us to turn our eyes in to our hearts and see there the greatness of man, and the horror that man can inflict upon the world and upon himself.
He makes us realize that, like his characters, we have a choice in what kind of person we shall be and that heaven and hell are not foreign concepts in our existence, but they are the consequences of our actions and how we live our lives. Heaven and hell are inside us, and are manifested in us as conscience and virtues. . . .
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. . . .”
The thousand natural shocks . . . .
The grief is part of the journey. The heartache. The silence.
Children are born to break our hearts. I’m sure I ripped my mother’s to shreds. Never meaning to, but still.
Because of this I understand and forgive and hope. I still fear so much that Jake is dead; every day I wonder, so much so that a callous has developed on the question.
On the way home from the symposium, traffic was at a standstill on the I-10 EB freeway in Indio because a young woman had fallen from the Jackson overpass. I’d Googled it while sitting there, and at the time I thought she had jumped. (I’ve since driven under the bridge again and can see how someone could fall off.) When I thought she’d jumped, I wondered if the victim had had anyone stop for her when she was alive. And then I thought, with fierce gratitude, that just that day, David had stopped for me. That act will resonate in me for a long time to come.
Here’s what’s resonating in me right now, and it ain’t cheesy. I love the first question. I’ve been saying it a lot lately.
*Campbell’s quote comes from The Power of Myth.
You can find more info on Bill Moyers’ website: http://billmoyers.com/series/joseph-campbell-and-the-power-of-myth-1988/
It’s been, let’s see–
May – 31 days
June – 30 days
July – 31
Aug – 31
Sept – 30
Oct – 31
Nov – 30
I do this mental count like it somehow gives me a handle on things. Counting. What is that, anyway? You count what counts? What?
Three digits. Macro in micro.
Two hundred twenty one days since Jake went missing.
It’s winter now, and it’s cold everywhere.
I put on my slippers and I think of Jake’s feet.
Not just, “Are they cold?”
I remember him wearing shoes that were too small. That made him limp. I am fixated on this.
Why did he wear shoes that were too small? I forgot what he said. I don’t like that I forgot something he told me.
I walk outside in the morning, feel the bite in the air, and wonder where Jake slept last night. If he slept. If he’s even alive.
Yesterday was his birthday. I navigated through my responsibilities with remarkable aplomb, and gave myself space to breathe, and did some genealogy research on Susan B. Anthony because I’m pretty sure we’re connected, which resonates in me fiercely. Doing such research seems to be the way I get out of my head most effectively. It’s a problem to be solved that CAN be solved.
There’ve been several birthdays I didn’t get to celebrate with him because of our estrangement. I’d adjusted–I knew he was in town then. Mad at me for inexplicable reasons, but safe.
Every year I remember his 18th birthday and laugh, because that day I’d taken him to San Diego and on the way back got pulled over by CHP for going too slow in the second fast lane. Jake’d been making me laugh. If you know him, you know how he is. I hear the bloop of the siren and toodle over to the side of the road, roll down my passenger window and the cop leans down to talk to me.
“Ma’am. Did you not see my lights in your rearview? Did you not see everyone passing you? License and registration, please.”
I know my jaw dropped. I got pulled over for nonspeeding. For driving like a granny. How can you not laugh at something so absurd? Oh, how I laughed.
The cop frowned at me.
It did not squelch me.
The cop asked, “What’re you laughing at? You think this is funny? Are you laughing at me?”
“Sir, no, no, no. I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m the funny one here. I’m funny. I’m laughing at myself.” And continued laughing.
The cop stood up abruptly, and I’m guessing he might’ve been struggling not to laugh and it’s not good protocol to laugh with someone you pull over, right?
Jake’s looking at me like
Then the cop bent down to the window, handed back my stuff, and said, “Lady, stay over in the right lane. You can go 40 miles an hour and it won’t be a problem. You can go as SLOOOOWWWW as you want.”
And he looked at me like
I wonder what Jake remembers about that. Did he think about it yesterday?
I thought about what I could have done differently that could have prevented …whatever this is. I don’t even have a name for it because I don’t know…anything.
Today is harder than yesterday was because I don’t have anyone depending on me for anything. So, time to think. And actually, no. It isn’t harder. It’s more feel-y. Feely and thinky. So here I am. Counting.
24 days till the end of December. The end of 2016.
17 days till I get to see my youngest son, Josh.
140 books to Urban Life in San Diego.
50 books to one of my students for the ASES program where she tutors.
Today I’ll be counting squares I sew on my sister’s quilt.
Tomorrow I’ll be counting toys that my RWS 100 students are donating to Toys for Tots at SDSU-IV.
Counting what counts.
Nothing adds up. It doesn’t change anything. Counting doesn’t matter.
But it quantifies things so that I feel like my existence matters. I make differences that I can sometimes count in the midst of the intangible, unquantifiable fog of loss. I’m enshrouded by the uncountable. We all are.
But I hear Morgan Freeman saying this in his “God” voice:
So, okay, it’s raining and foggy and uncountably lossful.
And I’m reminded of another Jake story.
He was five years old. It was raining outside, raining so hard it hit the sidewalk with fat splats that sounded like hundreds of small wet mops slapping the ground. Jake cocked his head, listening to it, and asked, “Mommy, what’s that pokeness?”
My heart still leaps at that word. I love its descriptiveness, its logic.
We went outside and stood in the rain, listening to it hit our faces and clothes and the sidewalk. The wet didn’t matter. It was just part of the day. The dichotomy in the picture below is unnecessary and oxymoronic, but I think the underlying idea must be to move into the uncountable. Move with it. Some of it becomes part of who you are, like the ache that seems normal now. The ache makes me weigh things differently. The rest of the uncountable will eventually lift. I know this because I’ve been here before and survived.