One can learn many things from those who channel non-earthlings.
One of my daughters recently finished a school-specific rite of passage that involves writing a Senior Meditation. I know little of this ritual. I do know that our puppy consumed a good helping of fiber from a book of past Meditations, because I discovered shreds of palpable (pulpable?) evidence of that transgression.
I know only the tidbit of information my daughter was willing to disclose to me about her Meditation: it was about aliens.
“Did you get it done?” I was slightly afraid to ask, particularly because she spent the last three weeks of winter term with a horrible flu that turned her silvery voice into a froggy, hacking mess.
She nodded. And unleashed a coughing fit.
“What was it about?”
“Aliens?” I asked, sloshing coffee on my suit, shoes and outgoing mail as I headed out for work. “Like, undocumented immigrants?”
“Tralfamadorians.” She replied.
“Oh.” Enough said.
Tralfamadorians, as any Kurt Vonnegut fan knows, dispensed pearls of wisdom and were not favorably disposed to linear time: “It is just an illusion, here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.”
A few nights ago, on the anniversary of the day when my husband finally came home from the hospital, I read Hallucinations. Not unsurprisingly, Jim then visited my dreams, but in a disturbing way that left me feeling acutely that there was something more I could have done. Time and time again, in that peculiarly concentrated kaleidoscope that makes up REM sleep, Jim and I were racing to find the solutions to intricate word puzzles–and we always found the answers, but were too late.
In this dream world, governed by the strictest of linear time, only those who got the answers first won.
When I replay the weeks and days leading up to my husband’s death I think there was something more I could have done, some puzzle I could have solved in time to help him, to alleviate his pain, to make things somehow easier for him. Perhaps this is common for caregivers.
Some version of that searing self-doubt is my constant winter companion, when the very feel of the air and lighting of the sky brings me back to the moments when I rushed Jim to the emergency room, when snow curved into waves on the flat rooftops outside his hospital windows, when I trudged miles along an empty highway in a blizzard , ice granules whipping against my face, to get one more medication for him to try.
Yesterday was the day that contained the moment my husband’s heart stopped beating.
That moment and all those which surrounded it remain with me every moment of every day. Yesterday did not bear the date on which my husband died, but it included the moment: 1:20 in the afternoon of the third Tuesday of March. The sky was suffused with the same clinging wet snowflakes which weighed down and crushed the first tentative floral signs of spring, and spun birds into disarrayed formations–just as it was on the first Tuesday of spring when my husband died.
Of course, the Tralfamadorians would quickly cast me out for missing the larger point. That moments do not disappear–that they have not gone, gone away–does not mean that one should-or perhaps even can–mire oneself only in the darkest of them.
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
It is poet Mary Oliver’s third component of coming to grips with living on this Earth that I haven’t mastered–not nearly (the exact two words Jim, who yearned for and tended to his own nameless pond, used when I asked him on that last day in the hospital whether he’d told me everything he wanted to tell me):
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
The mind is beyond a curious thing. Within the same waking moments I can have visions of taking a last walk with my husband around the hospital floor before he was sent home to die while also being visited by him–and by the younger me–as he sat next to me in an operating room and held my left hand and said, “It’s a . . . big . . . girl.” I can peel back layers upon layers of moments among the many years we spent together, and at times the moments rearrange themselves like mosaics.
Of course remembering is not all bad; it is not uniformly unnerving and horrifying, at every single moment along the way, to relive the loss and death of someone you love.
The Trafalmadorians also knew this, as did Billy Pilgrim: “If I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I’m grateful that so many of those moments are nice.”
To the nice moments, Jim. We love you and we miss you. You’re not and never will be gone, gone, gone.