Thursday, December 16, 2010

Grief

Grief is like a Tupperware container lurking in the lower reaches of a refrigerator.  You discover it by accident, reaching for something else, something ordinary and familiar.  You were vulnerable, didn't realize it was there, weren't prepared to find it, didn't want to have to deal with it.

By the time you discover its components, your responses have tugged at your viscera, misted your eyes, yanked you through at least two time zones of emotional growth to the point where some childhood loss revisits you with the mindless persistence of a schoolyard bully.  You are suddenly age six and you are with a group of acquaintances playing in the empty lot that faces Wilshire Boulevard.  One of your chums digs into his pocket and pulls out a pen knife with faux pearl handle, conspicuously using it to shave a point on a piece of lath.  The knife is yours; it was a birthday present.  You claim it, realizing it must have fallen from your pocket when you were at its new owner's home.  "Finders keepers," he says, reciting a mantra you have already heard any number of times, "losers weepers."   So many years to have remembered that loss, and yet it was there, waiting for a moment of association to remind you.  Grief does that, connects the dots of loss, reminds you of what was and can no longer be.

What triggered this particular time warp:  you were shaving this morning, even a bit cheerful, thinking how the day was shaping up with opportunities to spend time with individuals you truly enjoy and who will not be embarrassed if there is a momentary lag in conversation.  Your gaze happens on a hair brush that was not yours, that contains wisps of hair not yours.  It takes you several moments of regarding yourself in the mirror, reminding yourself that any number of similar triggers await you as you move from the bathroom through the living room, out the front door through a garden you admired as a viewer but not as a gardener.  Each event could, you reason with yourself, be a disaster of a reminder, yanking you from this moment to the past, where outer momentum stops, mugs you with a grip determined to hold you rooted to some past in which you are effectively frozen.

Grief is when someone of sincere, unquestioned intent spells out for you the amount of time it takes to get over things.  A cold takes two weeks.  A broken bone takes a month.  A rejection letter, particularly one that informs you how close you were to acceptance, takes six weeks.  Such calculus causes you to recall individuals who have been gone for eight or ten or twelve years, and you understand that you are more accepting of their loss than you are over the effect.

Part of the euphemism called "growing up" involves experiencing loss of various individuals, experiences, concepts; you'll have lost enthusiasm, idealism, interest as well as individuals who were once alive.  You will have lost beloved friends, teachers, relatives.  If you are of any account at all, you will have seen the inevitable tide, then gone about your way to acquire enthusiasms, ideals, interests, and individuals to replace those who were lost to the extent that you cherish these as well as grieve for what you have lost.

It is or should be a part of your natural order that grief hides behind things you care about; its true value is, eventually to remind you of the exquisite beauty you found in the daily associations as well as the monumental moments when you knew you'd been in contact with a person, place, or thing that was exceptional.  The most intense grief of all would be the loss of the ability to see some aspect of wonderment in the unexpected places you are most likely to encounter these individuals, these landscapes real or from someones imagination, these things given you by another who thought to share enjoyment with you.

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