Sometimes Sundays begin better than they end.
Self-loathing is so much easier than change.
And just as passé.
I hate being passé. I’ll get on that tomorrow.
Yesterday I dragged my husband to see The Fault in Our Stars. There were many, many young women in the audience. There were also older women, much older women, young men, middle-aged men, older men–people in groups, people in pairs, people on their own. The Fault in Our Stars is a tear-jerker book by John Green now made into a tear-jerker movie starring Shailene Woodley. She does a beautiful job as Hazel Grace Lancaster in love with Augustus Waters. But this post is not about the movie. It’s about what this book and this movie have done to and for people who engage with it.
I bought this book for my oldest daughter for Christmas because I had read good reviews and it seemed up her alley (she’s a Nicholas Sparks kind of gal). She read it and said I had to read it. So I did. I cried. It haunted me as a girl and as a mother. Yesterday the movie hit me in the same way but differently. I knew Augustus was going to be the one to die first. I knew Hazel would be left to find the strength to go on, to make meaning of this seemingly cruel experience.
What was most interesting, however, was the audience. They cheered when Hazel and Augustus shared a first kiss (as did onlookers on screen). They cheered when they shared their bodies. They cried when Hazel was sick, then when Augustus was sick. My husband said it was the first movie he had been to where he could hear sobbing above the sound of the film. The film was cathartic. There was communal grief and the expression of that grief was sanctioned because you could hear it from everyone around you.
On the way out of the theater, the ushers handed out tissues. Ok, I thought, I got this. I am fine. Then I went to the restroom.
The entire restroom was full of women of various ages in various stages of crying–wet eyes, open crying, streaming tears, sobbing, fighting back tears. Young girls just let it go and clung to their girlfriends. What really hit me, however, was an older women, short hair, very well put together, emerging from a stall in which she had clearly been crying, her eyes wet, facial muscles taught fighting more tears. What hit me was her eyes. They were so deeply sad that I thought, “that’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” Had she lost a child to cancer? A grandchild? Recently lost a spouse? The name and relation of the loss was not in her eyes, but the loss was pouring out from every atom of her being. And she had no one to hug her. She was a single.
Preparing to write this post, I was looking for images. My husband had seen a young girl with an okay, okay tshirt, so I knew there was some fanwear out there. But Google images opened a whole new world of images and quotes. This book’s title is pulled from a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
What those quotes are are very interesting.
- I fell in love the way you fall asleep, slowly and then all at once.
- My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.
- You gave me a forever within the numbered days.
- Some infinities are greater than other infinities.
- The universe wants to be noticed.
- You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you.
- Maybe okay will be our always.
- Love is keeping the promise anyway.
- That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.
It’s the last one that has stuck most with me as I continue to work through my grief for the loss of my father. Yesterday was my birthday and it was, like every other event since his death, the first one I celebrated without the man who did so much to make me who I am, and not just with DNA. I went out of town in part, I think, to get away from that fact, but there it was coming back at me all day. Because that’s the thing about pain…..it doesn’t matter where you are because it’s inside you. It’s made of you, just like the cancer that killed Augustus Waters that stopped the heart that was also made of him. And our hearts, which are made of us, are what will help us survive the pain, which is also made of us.
Because that’s what the living do. We live. And sometimes we cry.
Birds lay eggs. The eggs hatch. Squawking baby birds demand food, care. Mother and father birds give up their very guts to feed their young, whose feathers grow in ugly fits until they are, one day, beautiful. And then they take that leap from the nest and, hopefully, fly.
Our beautiful oldest daughter is taking those first flights. My heart is full and aching at the same time. I am so proud. She is kind and intelligent. She thinks of others. She thinks through (most of) her decisions. She is a wonderful daughter, sister, granddaughter, friend. She is going to be a fantastic mother, aunt, teacher, employee. She was my first little girl and she is my first child to leave for university. Her leaving will change our family forever. I will miss her. We will miss her. And we will wait patiently for her to come back and change us again. If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, maybe it loves you back.
Fly ba-by bird. Fly.
Driving epiphany: I reject adulthood, this kind of adulthood, this stage of adulthood.
My parents raised me in a good German farmer fashion to believe the world was ordered by right and wrong. Those who did right would eventually be rewarded and those who did wrong would eventually be punished. I was a big fan of what was fair (what child isn’t) and was adamant about what was fair through my thirties. My early forties have sort of squashed the old idea of fair.
The idea of right and wrong prevails, however, and the promise of reward and punishment. How is that not clinging to “fair”? Bigger scale, let’s say. Fair might come down to size of a half of a candy bar (child’s scenario) or bitchy women having nice hair (adult scenario), but right and wrong is on a more cosmic scale.
I’ve been pissed off since the middle of December. Pissed off at God, fate, my father, other people with living fathers, everybody–depended on the day, the moment. In the last few weeks my pissed off-ness has mellowed from white hot to glowing embers and it no longer focused on individuals or deities, but is just a general aura I carry around, sort of the opposite of “newly pregnant” or “just had great sex” or “just accomplished something on my bucket list.”
Today I realized why I’ve been so pissed off. I’m having to let go of the correlation between right and wrong and reward and punishment–or to say that my tiny little existence brain just can’t understand it (there’s a bigger plan, kiddos). I wish every person to whom I had ever mouthed that bit of tripe had slapped me silly. Maybe there is a bigger plan, but since I can’t see it, it means for all practical purposes that there is no plan, no rhyme, no reason. No rules.
My father was a good person. He died at 62. A co-worker is a good person. She made the tough calls and did the right thing at work. She just lost her job.
My father escaped debilitating illness that may have loomed in the future. She escaped an emotionally debilitating work environment.
But he is dead, no longer here to enjoy his grandchildren or his fishing poles or his baseball and she is unemployed with two children and college tuition looming.
I call bullshit. And I vent to this blog.
Because in a few minutes, after I finish this adult beverage and this rant, I will greet my children home from the end of their long day and I will perpetuate the myths of fairness and the fairy tale of right and wrong, reward and punishment.
Time to put on my big girl pants.
I have a heavy heart
weighed down by grief
burdened by loss.
how heavy is your grief?
how to weigh a hole?
my grief weighs 12 pounds.
Ten plus two.
And still it does not fill the hole.
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Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday. She chose grandma’s as her birthday dinner location. Two weeks ago our son did the same. Not a restaurant. Grandma’s. In the car on the way home from school she was chattering about going to grandma’s and suddenly grew quiet. When I pried from her what was the matter, she said she misses grandpa. I choked out, me, too, every day, and we had a cry. Our son cried on his day, too, as we gathered in grandpa’s place without grandpa. As I watched her little face in the rear view mirror I was filled with the sense that this is a measure of a man: how deeply his absence is felt by his family on those days we mark together. My dad was a quiet man not given to big displays of affection, but each of us knew how much he loved us from the little rituals: the greeting to the silly goose, the gentle tease, the big grins and big hugs at the door.
May we all be missed as much as my family misses my father, not to bring pain but to witness the love that holds his place.
This Sunday starts with a dream of a hug, rough stubble scraping my cheek, smell of Old Spice, cologne not quite masking tobacco. A lurching hug, feet unsteady, but arms strong, breath steady.
Morning delayed by sleeping in. Phone call and discussion of selling the farm, the cottage, the places you were home. The places I was home. Tears.
Some days I’m putzing along
Knowing parts are not 100%
But the wheels are turning
The radio is on
My head is spinning
And I miss the alarm
Until my tank runs dry.
The house on a Sunday morning, sun climbing in the sky, kids asleep, dogs stretching in the original down-dog yoga pose, cats blinking, never admitting they were asleep. Warm cocoa, buttery toast, hard-boiled egg and the satisfying crack and peel to reveal its soft white flesh, soon to be accented by jagged white salt crystals.
A NYT obit of a Zen priest, author, fisherman, secret agent, friend, lover, father, betrayer, success, failure. Life ended by leukemia, the last battle. Zen quote about not clinging to life contradicted by son’s quote about his father’s struggle. Where the acceptance? When the letting go?
An email late at night. My own letting go of an obligation that no longer serves. A return to undisciplined spirituality, to finding god in the moment, in the sunshine, in the song.
The children still sleeping. Keys’ slow staccato breaking the silence, so I let them, too, go quiet.