…For a week only … and then-
That week became forever.”
I have been reading lately. Yes, me, G., the once crazed work-a-holic teacher has found time to read, and see my personal trainer three days a week, and even host friends from out of town on “GASP!” a school night. As I’ve opened myself up to literature, every book I pick up has seemed to have a focus on loss. Thus, my musings lately have been focused on the topic, especially the absence of certain people and moments in my life that I continue to miss while I move on.
In her book, The Inheritance of Loss2, Kiran Desai asks, “Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss?” She remarks that “love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment.” This got me thinking that when it comes to loss, we are left with so many “maybes”.
Maybe I didn’t need that person in my life- I only miss them now that they’re gone. Maybe I imagined or aggrandized their significance. Or, especially when it comes to the loss of someone we truly love, we wish ourselves to believe that maybe, just maybe, they will come back.
Whether we are dealing with loss in the form of a temporary absence, or an eternally ended life or love, it all seems to come down to timing. During times of struggle, people have always told me that God gives you only what you can handle. While I have internalized and admired this philosophy, at times it is hard to take.
For instance, two Octobers ago, when I lost my Grandfather, was it that I had not hit my stress quota for the month, the year? Did his death need to occur to remind me of something, perhaps the preciousness of life? Was it just about time for me to experience deep, irreversible and uncontrollable loss?
Since I don’t believe in the existence of some fate puppet-master, toiling away adding ingredients of grief, despair, or vulnerability to my life, I had to think of some reason why loss exists, and moreover, what I could do to move on.
The more I thought, the more I realized that the greatest remedy for loss is hope. Hope as a concept has always infiltrated our psyches. Since Pandora’s Box3 left us with nothing to hold on to but the sentiment, and Dickinson planted the “thing with feathers”4 in our souls, through our darkest times we as humans have been led to believe there is hope.
While I don’t believe people die or leave to teach us a lesson, I do feel that it is the audacity with which we embrace hope after loss that settles us.
I’ll never get over the fact that my Grandfather is gone. I still struggle with the reality that I will never curl up in his lap again, happy to be still and near to him.
When I am at the seaside, I look out into the blue and feel sadness and nostalgia knowing that I won’t ever again watch his strong, graceful body glide over the tops of waves.
And no matter how hard I listen to the song of birds outside, or the notes of a fine-tuned piano, I won’t ever hear his laughter, that deep expression of contentment exploding from his heart.
Despite all of these losses, this summer, I saw my Grandfather in Shenandoah. R. and I were on our way to Virginia to be with our Brothers, and in a fit of tenacious spontaneity, we stopped at the Rainbow Hill5 country store to buy wine and goodies for our weekend.
I walked into the place and was greeted by the smell of incense and the sweat of a hard day’s work. The man at the counter welcomed us with a smile.
He had a raspy voice from years of cigarettes and his hair was grey and white; as thick as it had been when he was young.
He spoke softly to R. upon seeing me migrate towards the wine room.
“She’s a Wine-O isn’t she.” He winked and chuckled that same deep, smile-laden laugh that comforted me as a child.
His words came out in a sweet, low voice out of the side of his mouth. It was that same voice that Grandpa used to speak when he told a joke meant only for me.
R. shook her head in compliance, “YES.”
As if this granted him permission to be near me, the man found his way quickly to my side, an arm around my shoulder, the opposite hand tightly wound around a bottle of merlot.
“There’s nothing like a good glass of red wine.” He smirked, happy to let me in on his secret.
My mind flooded with memories harkening me back to all of those nights where wine and dominoes flowed like water from a joyful fountain. We were happy, then, weren’t we? I, with my game pieces in front of me, the warmth from my Grandfather radiating at my side. I felt full of something, then, something sweet like happiness.
After the old man at the shop gave me the tour of his wine room, told me about his past and his present, R. and I gathered our thoughts and our things and prepared to leave.
On our way out I told the man at the counter that he reminded me of my Grandfather. I told him that seeing him that day, in that moment, reminded me of just how real the love and connection between Grandpa and I was. He responded by saying that it made him feel good to hear that, and he smiled that smile that sealed our encounter.
It was at that very moment that I noticed his bottom teeth. Just like Grandpa’s they overlapped and gapped and jutted out at odd angles. I laughed one more time, reminded of the beauty of his gaping mouth. I remembered that mouth from countless laughs, and especially from those last few days when he snored helplessly on that hapless hospital bed.
Tears filled my eyes as we left Shenandoah. They were not tears of sadness, but ones of remembrance, thanksgiving, and hope that I could again, someday, feel the warmth of love and connectivity I lost along with my Grandfather.
In the end, what is the moral of my contemplations? For me, it is to remind myself to always listen deeply to the heartbeat of the closest person you cherish, to let yourself let go in love. But most of all, I have learned and begun to strive to be hope to others.
Along with the million other maybes that cloud our days, I try to stop to think that maybe, just maybe, I am the smile that reminds someone life is still possible and that happiness, as changeable and fleeting as it is remains. By being myself, I find that my capabilities for inspiration can never be lost. For it is in myself, and the many maybes that bring me light and love, that I find the courage and the power to still hope.
1. Cavafy, Constantine. “The Afternoon Sun” http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/181786
2. Desai, Kiran. The Inheritance of Loss. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/12/books/review/12mishra.html?pagewanted=all
3. “Pandora’s Box” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandora’s_box
4. Dickinson, Emily. “Hope” http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/hope.html
5. Rainbow Hill http://www.rainbow-hill.com/