New posts on Soul Like a Spider

 

 

I Will Give You

A new year is upon us. While that holds the promise of a clean slate ahead, we sometimes carry baggage in from the old year despite our best efforts. And so if your year started as dark as the last one ended, this is for you.

Maybe you have poured yourself out so much that you don’t know who you are at the bottom of the jar. Maybe you have worked really hard for something you thought would pay off, but it didn’t. Maybe you give yourself to things that are necessary for your survival, but they drain you. Maybe you have lost something and the vertigo of grief is overwhelming and disorienting. Maybe you are exhausted from the daily slogging through anger and expectations. Maybe you are empty, breathless. This is for you.

Even in the darkest of moments when you feel abandoned, there are gifts all around. This is a reminder of life, joy, and the gifts we have been given that surround us even when we feel hollow.

Appreciating these gifts will not solve everything. But maybe they’ll give you a moment of rest and serenity, some extra fuel to keep on, or a little bit of light to combat the darkness.

Before you read this post, turn off the lights. Full-screen this video and breathe.

And god said I will give you:

… Clouds that flow like oceans of milk that move and breathe like they are running out to sea.

… Friends you can share the deepest cupboards of your mind with.

… Sunsets of the strangest colors that painters will spend their lives recreating, and poets, retelling.

… People whose soul will leave such a deep footprint in your heart that they never really leave.

… Elephant ears, chicken curry, Frank Sinatra, and flowers that open with the sun.

… Steaming coffee and good beer that reminds you of the sweetness of life while the bitter hangs on your tongue.

… Hymns that will make you cry the instant you hear them and friends that you laugh too loudly with.

… People that sit quietly with you long into the night under fireworks to hear about what’s wrong.

… Mountains and fog that take away your breath, and skyscrapers that let you see the light.

… Sleep and wind.

… People who know you better than a sibling after ten minutes.

… Relationships that take work, but produce the deepest and most needed love you could ask for.

… Lovers, partners, dreamers, and intimacy.

… Multi-colored eyes with rings that rival the ones that wrap around planets.

… Sex and lips and kissing and laughter that will change your life.

… Smiles and wrinkles and crow feet and teeth that fill up your heart like heat.

… Poetry that can shred your heart and heal it.

… Holiday lights and paper cranes and snow and permanent markers and tattoos.

… People that you will fall in love with even though they don’t fit in the box and you will transform each other’s lives.

… Porches that you can sit on in the dark with friends, and porches that will give you a path out of destruction.

… Guitars, banjos, harmonicas, and cellos, and voices of syrup and smoke and silk and grit.

… Slices of conversations in common places that change your life.

… The Dalai Lama, Bukowski, Fitzgerald, Rakoff, Yates, Vonnegut, Klosterman and Rumi.

♦◊♦

The world is not a hotel room that you tolerate sleeping in for a one night, cautiously and unforgivingly. The world is not something you shower off the next morning.

The world is the scent of pine and grass. It is eye contact so pure and wholly attentive , it scares you. The world is a symphony, an unforgettable laugh. The world is a listening ear, hot coffee, a long hug. The world is a fever, a dream, a kiss, the freshest mint, and the best plate of Eggs Benedict you’ve ever had.

The world is a song.

The world is wrapping paper and humanity is the gift inside.

And god said:

Do not be afraid, come on in. The water feels fine.

♦◊♦

“Look for the mysterious in life. Wherever you look – in the white clouds, in the stars in the night, in the flowers, in a flowing river – wherever you look, look for the mystery. And whenever you find that a mystery is there, meditate on it. Meditation means: dissolve yourself before that mystery, annihilate yourself before that mystery, disperse yourself before that mystery. Be no more, and let the mystery be so total that you are absorbed in it. And suddenly a new door opens, a new perception is achieved.” — Osho

 

Photo Credit: “Adrift” by Simon Christen

↬ Robert Krulwich’s “Just Like Van Gogh, Ocean Waves Paint Clouds In The Sky” for the video and sciency explanations for odd cloud formations.

Mike Morrell for posting the Osho quote.

 

On Grief: This Living Person Gets It

As some of you already know, my grandmother, Faye, passed away suddenly a few weeks ago.

I’m having a hard time carrying this grief around. This sadness feels like a fever I have to burn out of my body. I feel like if I could just find the right bottle of medicine it would leave me. But I know that isn’t the case, so I am going to remain in this middle place for a while.

I am doing the things that make me feel good (reading books I’ve been wanting to read, hot showers, good food, blankets and Netflix), while also recognizing that those things won’t fix this, and that this pain won’t subside in a day.

♦◊♦

I’ve found a lot of meaning in all of this happening during the Halloween season. It’s the one time during the year where symbols of death are all around us, and the holiday lets me brush up against mortality and recognize it’s place in life.1

It reminds me of one of the beliefs about Samhain, the pagan holiday that inspired Halloween: this time of year is when the veil between this world and what is beyond is at its thinnest.

If it is, I hope my grandmother can hear me.

I’m not interested in communicating with the dead or inviting them into my house, but I do really like this idea of the curtain being thin. It’s as if we could catch a whiff of those we have lost’s hairspray or cologne in the wind just for a fleeting moment. As if they will appear to us in rocking chairs in our dreams. As if we could hear their voice echoing through the hallways of our minds. As if we remember this time of year how their footprints are still evident.

24810_373483273183_4353640_nMy father was wrapped around my shoulders and my husband around my waist as the pallbearers carried the casket after the service. My dad said tearfully, as I restrained a full-out weep, “Her legacy lives on through us, right?”

All I could do was half nod and keep my eyes shut as hard as I could. My cold eyelashes turned drops into rivers on my cheeks.

If only I could just feel her spirit here for just a little while longer.

There were moments over the weekend when I was walking through the hallway in her house that leads into the kitchen that I paused for a moment. The light from the kitchen was so bright, and I knew if I walked in that she would be there. Her energy still lingered. It felt like she was just in another room the whole time I was there.

As a friend said to me about my father-in-law on a hot Carolina night, “It just feels like I haven’t seen him in a while.”

On my way out the door back to Michigan I actually said, “I have to make sure I say goodbye to Grammy,” purely out of habit as I was hugging everyone else. The words came out as a whisper, hit my heart like thunder.

To some, mentioning Samhain is near blasphemous, but the idea of the veil being thin informs my grief. I need that sense of closeness, of an anniversary, of a time to stop and mourn. I need to know that when they go, they aren’t far from me. And when I go, that I won’t be far either.

♦◊♦

What’s surprising to me is that my impulse during these times is not to run away from the spiritual. I’m not clinging to it for pat answers that give me the easy way out of dealing with grief, but I am also not completely avoiding it.

I wanted to go up to all the clergy in collars and pastors that were there for my family in the aftermath and the funeral services. I wanted to run up to them and tell them, Thank you, you are doing this right. You aren’t giving me stupid, mindless answers about tragedy in between tears, you are here for my parents, you aren’t abandoning my family, thank you! But I couldn’t spit up the words past the compulsion. The clergy I encountered were exactly what I need religion and faith to be right now: present, and don’t hurt me.

ringIn not shying away from spirituality, I also found a burning desire for physical practices and rituals I could do during this time. My Baptist background gave me little more than awkward hand-raising during praise songs in the way of tactile practices to anchor my faith, so I’ve had to find my own.

I bought a rosary, and it has an skulls, anchors, and crosses on it and I’m learning to pray with the beads. I am wearing skulls on my wrist and they remind me that it’s okay to sit with my grief. I don’t have to shutter it into a box of Things I’ll Deal with Later. It’s okay as a living person to let loss be with me, and to contain the paradox of life and death inside me. For the moment the skulls are an outward symbol of allowing myself to feel whatever I feel.

I am wearing a ring that was my grandmother’s. It has tiny pearls and robin egg blue beads. When I look on one hand I have a symbol of my marriage, and on the other, a symbol that reminds me of all the people I have lost and how I carry them with me. I read liturgy for words when I have none. I light candles, I read poetry about my ancestors. And lastly, I am listening to Elvis, who she absolutely adored.

♦◊♦

The thing I am having the most trouble with is actually not what Emily says in the end of “Our Town” when she whispers, “The living just don’t understand.”

Sometimes when we walk around like invincible humans we don’t understand the gravity of what we have in life. But as I stepped outside the church to leave for the graveside and I heard the weeping of her children and we, her grandchildren, I have no trouble understanding the gravity.

Death eats everyone. And it’s in moments like these when I don’t know how to keep going like everyone I love doesn’t have a ticking clock over their head. I mean, I know we all do have ticking clocks over our head, but I don’t know how to not be paralyzed by that.

I have a hard time when driving on my daily commute not feeling like any minute some car will hit me on the highway and I’ll be out like a light. I have a hard time not wondering when the next phone call will come; or when my family will show up without warning at my place of work to inform me of some fresh tragedy; which upcoming Christmas will be absent of cheer and instead full of hospital rooms.

I didn’t need to see ”Our Town” after going to a funeral. I didn’t need to see that a girl from my university who was barely younger than me died in a six car pileup in an intersection I used to live by. I didn’t need my grandmother a week shy of her 74th birthday — who never did anything halfway and who had more energy than anyone in the room – to die of something active people aren’t supposed to die from. I didn’t need to watch my steadfast and strong father-in-law deteriorate Christmas after Christmas from a cancer that ate him.

This living person gets it.

I just don’t know how to not let that stuff create a permanent installation of fear inside me.

♦◊♦

I feel much like I did after my father-in-law’s funeral back in February. The whole family was gathered at my in-law’s house and the lights glowed and hugs abounded. I was curled up in a chair in the corner of the den. I was moving as little as possible to keep down the chest pain that sprung up whenever my heart raced or I breathed too deeply.2

I took small, slow breaths and sipped on steaming coffee. The room was bursting full of people I loved and who loved me. And even though my view into the living room was obstructed, I closed my eyes and listened to my husband and his best friend perform “Ring of Fire” on guitar in the next room. My husband’s uncle picked up a drum for the first time in years and played the rhythm into the night. Those in the room sang, “And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire, the ring of fire.”

And so like I was in February, today I am sitting with the pain of my grief, surrounded by love, listening to the sweet notes of the universe that will nurse me out of fear and back into full life.

 

1. To some friends, this holiday is triggering, and that is okay too. It means something different to everyone, and you have to respect your own health and mourning in your own ways.

2. Everything is okay. It turned out to be pleurisy when I went to the ER later. It was hard to explain at first, because the symptoms showed up during the memorial and I said, “My heart hurts.” A family member replied, “You’re at a funeral! Of course it does.” No, really …

Lead photo credit: Flickr/Jo Naylor

 

Home: A Love Letter

I am not from Michigan originally, but it’s where I landed.

I was born in the shadows of the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia, where I don’t remember much other than turning the driveway into one giant mud pie with a garden hose and looking over the fence in the backyard at the rock quarry during the humid summers.

After leaving Virginia at a tiny age, we moved around for the next several years. By the time I was ten I was already craving a place to put my roots down. I wanted to be in one place long enough to recognize friends from elementary school and where I could watch the town grow old. I wanted a relationship with the place as much as the people.

♦◊♦

I drove across town with The Stripes’ ”Little Bird” racing through my head, making me sweat.

I passed the former home of the Pizza Hut where we would pass out little red and pink valentines to some of my homeschool friends when I was young. They were held together with sweetheart stickers and opened over  buffet pizza. I altered the words a tiny bit in the one sent to my secret crush; I hoped by some magic he would know that my benign valentine meant something very different.

I passed the hole where the Caribou Coffee used to be. (It’s now a frozen yogurt place or something boring.) In the evenings, Alex and I would huddle around the large table by the window and crunch algebra problems, and after homework was over, our friends showed up and we lazed and laughed over sweetened coffee for hours.

(That coffee shop is how I knew there must be something more to faith and church: my friends and I wrestled with morality and started theological conversations there by ourselves, and they were questions our church two miles away wouldn’t touch. And when I asked them to, they tersely informed me that our pastor was not Billy Graham.)

I passed the house that I walked to after a severe breakup years ago. ”Arrive first so that he has to come down to your level and you start the conversation with the power.” It didn’t matter, it didn’t work. My significant other held up a sheet of paper with circled reasons why we were there, and they all led with arrows to the center circle: “Breakup.”

I left in a rage, the heat burning through my cheeks, and in my ’93 Bonneville I yelled along with Spencer Chamberlain in “In Regards with Myself“.

“There’s got to be some stable ground left to walk on
So tear another page from the book
Are you asleep or just alone?”

There are landmarks of home everywhere I look:

A stolen kiss in the former Borders parking lot.  Best friends and Lord of the Rings marathons down that road into the forest. A Halloween party that caused me to accidentally blunder a relationship down that one in downtown. Photos in a heavy, beaded red dress that made feel like a demi-god behind that church. Ate at that sandwich shop in the winter when I was stressing over Greek mythology papers and house-sitting.  Engagement photos in that park with the small river – the same park where I bought frozen apple cider at a yearly festival and a bee ended up in my mouth because it was drawn to the sweet and died in the ice.

♦◊♦

Not everyone around me shared this love of our state. Many felt like Michigan was someplace to escape. (Likely because, unlike me, they were born here.)

Former loves flew away to far corners: Washington, Arizona, Texas, New York, over the sea. One dreamt of a simple life of selling hot food outside of bars somewhere warm. One dreamt of a cabin in the woods where we’d elope and make maple syrup. Another, of living near the ocean so he could hear the waves in the morning.

They were dreams conjured and manifested and those states eventually called them away with a magnetic voice just as Michigan did to me. But this place, like many hometowns, takes a hold of you quietly. My section of the state isn’t anything in particular to look at, and didn’t grow up close enough to the coasts for the Great Lakes to be my childhood companions. However, I always visited them during the summer when they gifted me memories and adventures I will keep for a lifetime.

Michigan has been here through everything. It saw me through adolescence, love, grief, elation, dreams, fog, adulthood. Just a month after moving here, Michigan gave me a girl and a boy who would change my life.

This place has provided long winters to rest in, summers to purge my imperfections, decadent and rainy springs, and magazine-quality autumns. It’s a place where paczki and cider mills are sacred rituals of the changing seasons; where lighthouses stand abundantly on our shores, marking the edges of our state like fingernails.

This place bore itself into my soul, just as I bore myself into it.

On September 10th, 2001 we moved into a tiny condo and my love affair with the Mitten began.

Maybe someday I will fly away like the others. But for now, there’s not much more I could ask from a hometown.

 

Photo credit: Flickr/betsyweber

 

Reflections on Wild Goose (Music)

Last week I attended The Wild Goose Festival 2013. If you’ve never heard of it, here’s a bit about what is, I will be posting an overview in a few days, but until then you can read what they are about here

wild-goose_alise-writeAt any gathering, music can play its own character in the event. Wild Goose 2013 was no exception, with its various bands and styles providing the underpinning and spiritual pulse. The festival ran from Thursday through Sunday, and Saturday in particular was full of musical discoveries and revelations for me.

If I had to assess where I am right now as a person, I am at a curious intersection of focus, grief, and exploring my relationship with god in contentment and comfort. Somehow, even though I had no intention of allowing it to do this, the music at the festival touched each of those facets of my life.

On Saturday I was at a post-lunch dessert trip in town with a dear friend, Pat Green. We talked about generation perspectives and the Millennial exodus from mainline churches. Two hours into the conversation, I realized I was about to be late to my volunteer shift at the beer tent. I finished the rest of my French silk pie, hugged Pat, and jetted over to the festival grounds.

The sun was blaring, burning all fear from me and the humidity was gently adding curls to my typically straight hair. As I passed through the main gate, I walked by a tent in a field that was singing “I’ll Fly Away”. This was the one song that I remember the clearest watching my father-in-law Tommy play on his banjo with friends the day I met him.

“Some glad morning when this life is over I’ll fly away…”

I don’t necessarily subscribe to the traditional ideas of heaven, but that song knocked the wind right out of me. I can still see Tommy playing claw hammer style on his banjo seven years ago, belting out the lines while others played their instruments and gathered around in the basement clapping. Everyone was beaming. It took me half the grounds to recover and keep my eyeliner from smudging.

♦◊♦

I heard from a friend that there were Beer & Hymns events taking place during the festival. This sounded exciting.

Beer and people! Beer and singing! Beer and! And! – wait. Hymns?

Ever since leaving my legalistic Baptist church several years ago I’ve had a hard time singing hymns because I don’t feel like myself when I sing them; I feel like a past incarnation, a shadow of myself.

I’ve sang those same songs at youth camps with the same instruments in the same size crowd. I’ll close my eyes and harmonize just like I used to and I’ll get a little bit weepy. But how do I know it’s not just exhaustion?

I’ll weep to Nat King Cole’s “What’ll I Do” or David Bazan’s ”Strange Negotiations”, but when it comes to “How Great Thou Art” … it feels like a trick.

It’s reminiscent of the affect summer camp always had on me. Our tweeny selves would run around all week in the heat and deal with long hours, clique drama, chummy chants and songs, and group game days, and by the end of the week you could start playing any 90′s Hillsong piece during “worship night” and most of us would burst into tears. I don’t doubt the organizers’ good intentions, but looking back I felt like it was a false, heightened emotional interaction because of how tired and frustrated I already was.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time at camp. But after five plus years at youth camp of having emotional worship services the night before going home that were always a mascara-stained ORDEAL, the pattern became clear. (The story about how one year a guy pulled me aside as I was emerging from one of these said ordeals to confessed he was deeply in love with me is a gem for a different day.)

So, years later when I am tasked with interacting with these hymns and songs in an honest manner, I get pretty nervous. I’m afraid that if I let them in that I’ll fall into the same cage that held me for so long. I fear I’ll just trip back into that old time religion that made me feel so secure but was built on lies.

If the songs feel the same when I sing them, how could I possibly be any more honest singing them than when I was fifteen with those angsty, salty tears? I guess I’m still trying to figure that part out.

Clearly, the part of my brain that is devoted to vacation/church-y singing is confused.

I’ve had to distance myself from the practices of my former church life. Until I can tell that I intentionally mean every word and it’s not just an empty old habit creeping in through fatigue or emotional highs, I will have to sit on the side and listen.

One of the really unique things that I relished about my time at Wild Goose is I could be exactly wherever I was in belief and practice. No one pressured me to do anything or batted an eyelash at the way I spent my time. So, if I couldn’t sing hymns right then, that was okay. They were just happy to have me around.

♦◊♦

wg13-beer-glassAll that to say, during the festival I tended to avoid any of the major singing sections just out of protection of self. However, I worked a volunteer shift at the beer tent which was right off to the side of main stage. And what happened to be going on while I was serving roasty-toasty booze? Beer and hymns.

The gathering didn’t end up happening until well after my shift was over and after the Indigo Girls rocked the house from the main stage late Saturday night. However, I ended up still being around because after serving my volunteer hours I hung around the beer tent and caught up with all the friends I had bumped into but hadn’t had time to catch up with over the previous three days.

At one point I had to cross the field and pass by the crowd. It was dark. Stars were piercing through over my head and the grass was ripe with cold rain and dew. Glorious harmonies floated from an a cappella version of ”Come Thou Fount” as I walked by the crowd. I marveled at how beautiful it sounded.

On the way back they were singing “It is Well with My Soul”.

“When peace like a river attendeth my soul, when sorrows like sea billows roll…”

Tears rushed to my eyes. That song has long had the ability to render me into an instant heap because it was the song we sung at my grandfather’s graveside the day of his funeral ten years ago. What I didn’t know when I was standing in that cemetery back then is that the stage had been set for a brush with depression. That song was the opening score to a very sad period in my life.

I returned to the tent and back into the happiness and warmth of the people around me. As the evening went on, I spent time with so many different friends — old and new — all of whom I love so much I could kiss them. And so as the impromptu beer and hymns session continued outside as our laughter grew louder inside, I realized that the people singing were just more friends I hadn’t met yet  and it allowed me to hear those songs in a new light.

Wild Goose was a safe place where I could be one-hundred percent me. And the people that built that safe place with their hearts were only thirty feet away singing songs that previously contributed to my pain.

Maybe with time, things can be transformed after all. Maybe some day I can join back in to sing and not feel like a sham. The singers started sounding less like I had stumbled back into my former legalistic  stomping grounds and more like the Whos in Whoville on Christmas Day.

With this revelation I did not zip outside to join in a rousing round of “This Little Light of Mine”. I did however let out a breath of relief. I took another sip of the killer dark mocha stout I was carrying around, enjoyed the “maybe this isn’t scary” moment in my racing heart, and turned back to my delicious and hilarious conversations with the friends who make this universe as wonderful and rich as it is.

 

For other lovely posts about Wild Goose:

Closer to Fine – Wild Goose 2013

Wild Goose Festival 2013-An Orgasmic Experience

Alise Write’s Wild Goose Presentation: A Christian’s Guide to Atheists

Wild Geese and other strange communities

 

Wild Goose photo credit: Alise Write & Wild Goose

Lead photo credit: Flickr / MiguelVieira

 

Eyes Devour

On the Saturday after the 4th of July I went to Ann Arbor, Michigan to see Ira Glass’ show, “One Radio Host, Two Dancers”. It was an odd, endearing, sincere, and hilarious show that somehow managed to combine radio and dance. Definitely worth the money if it ends up near you.

That said, I’m glad I went alone.

The show covered some really poignant topics, like how love is really weird no matter what age you are, how performance arts can sometimes suck the life out of what people love, and the dynamics between people who work closely together daily in the workplace. But it was the last quarter that really got to me. It was about death, specifically, about how it feels to know you are dying and seeing someone you love fade slowly and die.

Ira Glass played an interview with Donald Hall, a former poet-laureate whose books I have sitting on my night stand, about a book of poems he wrote about the last eleven days he had with his wife who died of leukemia.

In one of the poems he spoke about how even the most mundane tasks had to be planned out and executed with strategy, like walking across the house. I witnessed this myself last Christmas, when walking from the living room to the bathroom in his bedroom down the hall took almost all the waking strength my father-in-law, Tommy, had left. It made me think of my mother-in-law, his sister, brother-in-law, and mother, who had to watch all of it this take place while they took care of him during his last weeks.

Ira Glass then called for “radio lighting” (complete darkness) and played something else from a different voice.

“Thanks to my rapidly dividing cells, I no longer have that feeling. Although, I remember it very well: that if I just buckled down to the great work at hand – lived more authentically, stopped procrastinating, cut out sugar – then my best self was just there right around the corner.”

It was David Rakoff’s voice.

“Yeah, no,” he continued:

“I’m done with all that. I’m done with so many things. Like dancing. I have no idea if I can do it anymore; I’ve been frankly too frightened and too embarrassed to try it, even alone in my apartment. There was a time however, as recently as about a couple of years ago when I was one course of radiation, two surgeries into all of this nonsense when doing the simple bar exercises while holding onto a kitchen chair achieved what they always used to do – what they’re supposed to do.”

He goes on to say this:

David Rakoff passed away last August. He had a rare case where the cure for his original cancer gave him another cancer. I feel a little bit dishonest – like I can’t actually mourn someone I never really knew, but his writing inspired me to find where I wanted to go with my own. His work was there for me during some of the more difficult moments in my life, like when I heard the wedding toast story on the Frenemies episode (#389) of This American Life that bright September afternoon I went wedding dress shopping that descended into disaster.

His newest – and posthumous – book just came out. Ira Glass played a clip of David reading a few lines from it, and what was touching and poignant and teary from David’s dancing talk just before it, pushed me to the point of trying to resist quiet sobs in my seat. The lines are from the point of view from a character in the novel who is dying:

A new, fierce attachment to all of this world
Now pierced him, it stabbed like a deity-hurled
Lightning bolt lancing him, sent from above.
Left him giddy and tearful. It felt like young love.
He’d thought of himself as uniquely proficient
At seeing, but now that sense felt insufficient.
He wanted to grab, to possess, to devour
To eat with his eyes, how he needed that power.

It was hard to listen to. Not only because the voice reading the verses about how it feels to know you are dying has since died, but because of the words themselves.

He wanted to devour with his eyes.

All I could think about were the last two visits with my father-in-law. The sicker he got, the more his gaze and his eyes changed. Did he have a sudden desire to possess and eat things through his eyes? To taste the world through his vision with a new vigor and burning, sweet affection? Was that the rest why, the last time I saw him, he looked as though he was seeing right through the walls of the house to something far away?

And if he could, what would he devour? I do a lot of note-taking as a writer and I’ve left an immense paper trail for myself, and in a weird way that’s how I eat with my eyes. But my father-in-law didn’t write. He used carving tools. Hand-built string instruments. Cooked incredible meals with deep-fryers and built homes with lumber.

Would he have devoured our faces? Some of that jambalaya that his sister made but he was too sick to eat? Just a few more tracks by Jimi? One more deep-fried turkey? Create one more dagger or one last banjo, carved and created with his hands, the neck green and inlayed with stone? Did he drink in the sight of the whole family being together, telling ridiculous sibling stories in the kitchen?

I wonder all of this not because my father-in-law was particularly surreptitious; he just wasn’t a man of many words towards the end and he never complained an ounce. So, to hear David Rakoff, someone who was ferociously articulate even up to the end, talk about the specifics of his body deteriorating underneath him chokes me up.

Since I was alone at “One Radio Host, Two Dancers”, the university students sitting beside me can just chalk it up as the weird girl in with the bird tattoo they’ll never see again, instead of having to explain to someone with me why my eyes glittered and were on the edge of tears for the last section of the show. (I mean, you can only pretend you’re brushing fragments of crust off your eyes and adjusting your glasses before its clear what’s really going on with your face.)

The sadness followed me home. On my way I stopped for coffee, for what else do longstanding tears and grief demand other than coffee? Being the weekend after the 4th, cities were still hosting their firework shows and there were loud booms from one that sounded like they were exploding right over my car while I was sitting in the drive-thru.

I got on the highway and drove toward home, gliding in the dark. Over top of the inky silhouettes of the trees I saw at least fifteen sets of fireworks on the way back. Tiny gold ones exploding in the distance that were the size of a quarter to my left, colossal purple ones spitting and bursting into the sky directly to my right. Color and shape shifting ones, ones that looked like they dissolved into glitter, and the twenty simultaneous ones going off in another city at the end of the set.

Would my father-in-law have devoured these too? I wish I could give these to him.

The truth is that I haven’t bought David Rakoff’s new book because I’m not sure I can read it right now. I want the audio version along with the book, as I’ve had for all of his previous books. But I just don’t think I can this time – at least not right now. It’s just too much – it makes me too sad and makes me think of Tommy and that’s okay.

As I explained to everyone who asked how I and my husband were after the memorial, I explained that the hard thing is that grief is not a solid thing: you don’t endure it in full for a certain amount of time and then it’s over. No. It comes and goes.

You might feel okay for a while, and then all of a sudden something reminds you of it and it comes flooding in. It waxes, wanes. It comes back, barreling at you like those glorious, raging purple fireworks.

 

Photo credit: Flickr / nigelhowe