Friday, August 01, 2008

Walking Wounded

Mojo is off spa-ing with her sis overnight and I'm here with the kids. Peep wanted to sleep in the big bed with me and, in a moment of weakness, I agreed.

Thing is, the Peeper sleeps like a mad clog dancer, rolling and kicking; it's not uncommon to go in to his room in the morning and find him turned 180 degrees from where he started the evening before, or crossways, contorted like a yogi. He's a busy little guy, even in his sleep.

So about 2a.m. he kicked me awake. I shuffled into the head, ignored the cats' frantic entreaties and padded downstairs, through Missy's unfinished bedroom and past Mojo's bike and the old dining table being Varathaned in the stairwell to the computer, to read, write and think.

Among the electronic social calls I made was one to a friend who lives in the southcentral U.S. She is where we were about this time last year; her adoption is in sight, she's edging in a little, getting a bit jittery and excited. Nesting. All the mommy things that mommies do. Part of the process she has documented on her blog - it's password protected so I won't link to it. It's been fun and exciting to watch her slowly ramp up out of the hard winters' depression into hope and anticipation. So I expected to enjoy her latest post with unqualified attention as I have recently. It featured a short essay written by a friend of hers about "prosperity consciousness". Not something I was aware of, but the gist is apparently that instead of hoping for something, you actively prepare for the Good Thing you want. As she puts it:
"’s not wishing for your Good to show up. It’s not hoping your Good will show up. It’s expectancy…a knowing, if you will. When you ask for something in your life, it’s KNOWING that it is on the way. When I ask for something I want, I always use the phrase ‘this or something better.’"
I think that's where I froze in my chair, bottle of water halfway raised, the old, sick feeling seeping out of the place in the back of my head where I keep it when I'm awake, while my busy, gibbering forebrain yammered at it: "No! Goddam it, stop it, go away! Not again, you bastard...!" And I stared at the inert letters, bible black on the white screen and realized that my friend's friend's optimistic hope had triggered, yet again, the little claymore mine that age and sorrow has tripwired into my brain.

Stephen Sondheim wrote "Every day a little death;/In the parlor, in the bed/In the curtians, in the silver/In the buttons, in the bread. Every day a little sting;/In the heart and in the head/Every move and every breath/And you hardly feel a thing/Brings a perfect little death."

I can't think of many better ways that describe the journey from birth to grave: every day we move through a neverending cascade of changes, arrivals and departures, joys and sorrows and the tepid moments between, hoping for the best, fearing the worst, doing the best we can as we see it.

And along the way we enjoy overflowing moments of happiness, moments we hold and try to preserve like flowers pressed in a book, willing the color and joy never to fade.

And other moments hold perfect horror. The sudden weightless step over the abyss; the swooping rising of your guts that signals the end of hope, the swerveless descent towards the inescapable crash below.

The loss of a child is one of those moments.

And it, too, remains pressed between the leaves of your memory. Even long afterwards, when you think you have passed beyond its sight, you turn a humdrum corner, you open an unremarkable door, and there It is. Grinning its blind skull-grin, cozening you forward to peer into that long-closed grave.

"Mmmmmmyeah, remember? There's that little onesie you loved so much. There you are celebrating her first kick. There's the soccer ball you imagined booting around with her. Hurts, doesn't it? Thought so."

The thing is...this isn't something that, for most of us, dominates our lives. It's not the mark of Cain, forever branding and exiling us from other people and other joys. I don't want pity or sorrow. My daughter's death is part of my life, one strand in the colorful weft of my time here on Earth. It's not the loss of my mind, or my sight. It's just a thing, like the big scar on my right thumb where I put my hand through the storm door when I was seven. A scar. Another scar.

What occured to me while writing this (because I'm thinking about the "Decisive Battle" I missed for July, Gettysburg - I'll blog about that this week) was a comment I read about Lee's lieutenant Dick Ewell, whose disappointing performance on the Confederate left drew much criticism at the time as well as afterwards. Said the commentator: "Something appears to have deserted Ewell after the loss of his left leg; some men never really recover their spirit after suffering big wounds."

I realize anew reading "We must never limit the universe." from my friend's blog that what this old grief scar does do IS limit my universe. I'm perfectly functional, but I've taken the big wound. I can't ever again KNOW that something good is on the way. Because it was once and what arrived was pain and loss and sorrow. And nothing I could do - and I once foolishly said that anything that wanted to hurt my family would have to kill me first - was enough to stop the awful emptiness that still exists, a tiny universe of nothing but Dark Matter, in the locked room at the top of the stairs in the back of my head.

So I hope and plan to celebrate my friends new child(ren, I hope). But, as with everything else, as I do I will hold in my heart the tiny, cold, sharp, shard of the old pain that rides behind me through life and holds over my head the derisive crown of lost fatherhood and whispers in my ear the reminder that life, and love, and happiness, are best enjoyed today, now, for like glory they are fleeting...

"If we fall in the race, though we win,
the hoof-slide is scarred on the course.
Though Allah and Earth pardon Sin,
remaineth for ever Remorse."


walternatives said...

You say that you can't ever again KNOW that something good is on the way.

From VP's standpoint (and my own), our pervasive (strongest) thoughts are precisely what WILL happen. Is happening. Basically, VP and I believe that what we think (focus on, give our energy to, etc.) is what we help make happen.

You say that we hope for the best and fear for the worst, but I try my damnedest not to give fear any stage time. NB: I said try. Sometimes it bullies its way in, and I can't budge that hairy beast easily. But I don't want to be fearful, so I try hard not to let Fear get a toehold. If I don't feed Fear, it usually leaves pretty quickly. If, on the other hand, I set a place at the table, he's won't easily leave.

Years and years ago, I read (Marianne Williams, was it?) that we basically operate out of two primary emotions: Love and Fear. That's stayed with me - bright and loud - all this time. I choose love.

Certainly, your thoughts didn't bring on the loss of your daughter. But knowing that grief and despair and tremendous pain can be just around the corner, I would think that you might often be on The Lookout for those monsters, standing guard. For me, that would be very difficult. Draining. Then again, I'm not as tough as you are, Chief. But frankly, I like being soft.

I'm not trying to preach here, just conveying what I try (not always successfully) to practice. I haven't endured the pain that you and Mojo have, my friend. I can only see with my personal filters. But I always TRY (try, mind you) to remain on the lookout for The Good. Because of that, as time marches forth, it's become easier and easier to recognize it, especially from afar. I'm trying to create my own world, then, where The Good is my focus. The Good deserves my energy. The Good attracts its own. Because of this, I truly feel - believe with my core - that I am one of the most fortunate people that I've ever met. I am literally surrounded with abundance of all sorts. But then again, I've been on that Lookout, expecting it. Welcoming The Good at every turn. It's a mindset, one VP and I are trying to cultivate. One we encourage in each other.

I'm sorry that the post was "an unremarkable door" that triggered your pain, Chief. Please know that I appreciate your feedback, as well as our relationship.

Lisa said...


I feel your sorrow. This is a fairly fresh scar you bear. Everything passes, nothing is promised; that you know. I hope for much more happiness in the scales of your life than misery.

I'm not some hippy-dippy New Ager, but I have always felt strongly that energy (animating spirit, whatever you will) is one universal constant, and like a rheostat one can take that down or up. Alone in the evening, uncontested, the low predominated.

I hope there is much more positive that actually raises your energy into unbridled joy. And that there is no guilt in that.

youknowwhereyouarewith said...

My issue with manifestation consciousness has always been the one that Carrie raised when she said, "Certainly, your thoughts didn't bring on the loss of your daughter." Because a LOT of folks who promote prosperity/manifestation consciousness DO believe that that is indeed the case--don't think about the plane going down when you fly, they say, or you might make it happen. They advise to say "cancel, cancel" for instance, after every negative thought or verbalization of a fear that you might express.

And I can't go there, to that place. It reminds me of how I feel when I read one of those fundamentalist wingnuts saying that our daughters, adopted from China, were destined before Time began to be ours. Thus suggesting that the horrific pain and loss of abandonment was inevitable, destined, a glorious sign of the divine.

Not my divine. Not my universe.

FDChief said...

W: "I would think that you might often be on The Lookout for those monsters, standing guard."

Say, rather, that I stand in the doorway and see the face of Pain alongside the face of Joy and say, welcome, old friend, old enemy. Which one of you has come to stay with me for a while?

I want to emphasize that I wasn't trying to write a refutation of your friend's essay but rather a reaction to it, a reaction that can occur at any time, to anything. A certain song, a sudden spring, the shape of an infant's cheek...all these are scars from the big wound.

I'm still optimistic - my wife uses the term "insanely" to describe my fundamentally upbeat outlook - but I'm not optimistic in the same way I was. I can't take the Good Things for granted anymore, I can't believe that they will happen just because I want them. Because I wanted that little girl more than anything and lost her.

And this doesn't make me special, or wise, or good. I don't WANT this scar: I'd rather be the hopeful person I was before. I enjoy your excitement and hope and cocooning, the way I with my bad knees can still enjoy the soccer I cannot play without pain anymore.

So don't feel that you post was a door to sadness and grief: they're there, everyday - every day a little death - and I've learned to live with them and appreciate them for what they do. For they help me to find the ephemeral joy in every fleeting moment, they are the silence that surrounds the music of my children's laughter and my wife's grace. As shadows, they help define the light.

L: This is a scar I'll carry to my own grave, and, as I said, it's just that. A scar; the guilt and pain and aching bereavement have passed. What remains is the scar, like a bone that has been broken and still aches when it rains. It doesn't steal my enjoyment of life, just tints it, now and then, with a little muted color...

YK: Bingo. The issue I have with the whole "prosperity consciousness" idea is all tied up with my Scots and Catholic and bereaved-daddy background. It just seems to me a little like tempting fate, like dressing up before you get the invitation to the party. If it works, great, if not...

Anyway, it seems to work for my friend W and her friend VP, and that's great. Like I say, I can enjoy their joy without sharing the same confidence. And hope that things work out for her, and for them.

Vibrant pilgrim said...

Chief, I read your blog often, sometimes daily. so it was not unusual for me to read it today. It was, however, startling to realize it was a reaction to what I had written for walternatives. I know I started by relaying a tale about a weekend workshop on 'Prosperity Consciousness'. That was the title and, silly me, I thought it was about manifesting 'stuff'. As I came to recognize over a period of years, it has much more to do with manifesting peace. I now think it comes down to one of two 'core beliefs'. Either I live in a welcoming,benevolent Universe or a cold,hostile one. Either I am connected to SOURCE all the time, or not at all. I KNOW that I am one with my source, as are we all.

That does not mean I never have sorrow or loss. Oh, would that it did! Loneliness and Despair still come to call, but now I know they will not be permanent companions. I'm so happy to know they are not yours either. We WILL have scars! We are here to have a human experience. The full range of human experience includes unspeakable sadness and pain. But , oh it includes glorious love, joy and happiness.

BTW, I completely agree with your readers who mentioned that your thoughts are not responsible for the loss of your child. MY God! What a burden to put on someone who is already grief stricken.

Rather , as I understand the world, it's our over-riding belief that determines our over-riding experience. Every moment I get to choose that experience. Do I live in a welcoming, benevolent Universe? Or a cold, hostile one? I get to decide...Moreover, I MUST decide. So do we all.

I'm grateful every day for the wonderful electronic world that the internet and bloggers have opened to me. I love reading the words and thoughts of people I would NEVER cross paths with in my ordinary life. You are one of those people, Chief. I appreciate this interaction conducted as it, is in cyberspace. I am an old lady, and you probably cannot imagine how far-fetched this whole exchange would have sounded just a very few years ago!

FDChief said...

"Do I live in a welcoming, benevolent Universe? Or a cold, hostile one? I get to decide...Moreover, I MUST decide. So do we all."

VP: thank you for your explication. I think we both have a way or ways of approaching life, our ways are different but not negatory. I see the difference in your quote above. For, you see, I don't see this wheel of samsara as either/or, for me it's both. The spice of hunger makes the meal more savory and yet in extremes can agonize on the way to death. What would life be like if all the days were sunny? There are and will be rainy days, and how we meet them is as important as what they bring.

The one thing I had difficulty with was the idea that attitude becomes reality. It just seems a little too similar to "wishing makes it so". Until the very moment they lifted our little girl lifeless from my wife's womb we had no thought of anything but joy and excitement. We were as focussed on our future as any parent. But that future never arrived.

And yet, it did. Life went on, and we lived a different future. But, as we enjoy our Present, we still get caught out wondering and mourning that other Present that will never be.

It doesn't make us doubt your feelings or question your ideals. But it does make us unable to share them. That's OK - we have our own, and they work for us.

And we're glad that you and W are sharing your own special kind of vision of the future.

Lisa said...

You have done the only thing you could do. You carry on, and moreover maintain your fire and passion despite bearing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. I'm glad you remain an optimist despite it all.