Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Worm Turns

You live next door to a fire station.  As you were negotiating some groceries and Sally from the back of your car, when one of the firepersons who’d been working on the nozzles and dials at the side of a large engine called out to you, inquiring over Sally’s health.  After a few exchanges across the chasm of a large driveway, she approached, made friends with Sally, and began a conversation familiar to dog lovers.  The discussion spanned the years from puppy to adulthood, how quick those years seem to come.  We move on to the size and weight of dogs, how Sally, at a scant thirty pounds, has the advantage-but-not guarantee of longevity.  The fireperson takes that step of confiding that makes a conversation a transaction.  She speaks of the enormous emotions involved in having to put down a larger, older dog, how she always wishes she’d gone for a smaller dog, how her life as a fireperson and as a person person makes it easier to dispense with a human from her life than a dog.  You walk down your driveway, describing to Sally the dinner in store for her.

If you believed in the particulars of sentimental myth, you’d be convinced the emotion of grief had been a designer emotion, something to come out of a story conference.  Sometimes, when grief has sneaked up on you and you are left to break emotional bread with it before sending it on its way; you try to imagine a plausible scenario for it being such a complex, invasive aspect of the human psyche.  Sometimes grief is like a particular worm that infests us, a tapeworm or round worm, some invader that climbs on board, waiting for an opportunity to make its presence known, which is bad enough for an uninvited guest, but, worse yet, it seems to thrive on causing in its host the sense of abject helplessness.

You have grown attached to a pair of denims.  You’ve shared some good times, both social and working.  Soon now, you will part company.  You will be sorry but not grief stricken.  Any number of mail order or online sources will be able to supply a new pair with the promise of good times until the seams shall part or the knees wear thin or some other defect sends you back for yet another pair.

Grief is the sense of loss of someone or some thing you consider irreplaceable.  No wonder you were assuring Sally of her forthcoming meal, which she ate with the considerable gusto she appends to everything she does.  You were whistling through the graveyard, putting off an event that in so many ways is now like the landing pattern at LAX or O’Hare.  Sometimes an individual will, with the best of motives, remind you how much he or she cared for your late Anne, expressing sympathy and concern for your loss.  Up to that moment, you were doing well, but now you are reminded that you aren’t.  You are comfortable with your life, happy, engaged, but of course different and now you are reminded of the difference.  Sometimes an event will take place that, under ordinary circumstances, you’d want to share with her or your sister.  Thus another dimension to grief:  the inability to share a pleasure, an insight, and a triumph with a particular person.  The pleasure, insight, triumph still remain, but you suffer that momentary loss of the one you’d so instinctively turn to share it with.  The worm has stretched to its full length within you, making itself known.

Grief, or at least the worm of it, can bring a parade of all the things you have lost, things whose memory extends well beyond the approaching threadbare denims which you can so easily replace.  In such moments, you are arm-wrestling with grief, which wants nothing more of you than to tip you back into the past, where you had access to the person, place, or thing you no longer have.

Sometimes grief interferes with your reading; you return to something that gave you pleasure at one time, but discover soon upon this reading that it is gone from you and you are left only with the ash of what it was to you once, earlier.

There are dozens of strategies you can employ when the worm turns over within you, wishing to remind you of the power you have lost in the transactions of being alive.  It neglects to tell you how important it is for you to not only have new transactions but to experience them, to learn to close read so that the details are imprinted on your senses to the point where they become living reproof of the gloom the worm wishes to install within you.

There are downward spirals, fanned by remorse, by an excruciating sense of loss, but there are an equal number of thermals, updrafts, breezes, supports for the merest, most fanciful of ideas and mischief to install as well in your sensory library.

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