Saturday, July 16, 2016

#SOL16: Nostalgia

A Window in Arles (M.A. Reilly, 2016)


While in Arles, I saw a small portion of a film about Vincent Van Gogh in London. The film was a bit dull--a rather awkward attempt to make much about something rather inconsequential. However, at one point the narrator said, "Nostalgia is a lazy emotion." That caught me ear and I recorded it on my phone thinking I would later want to recall it for it seemed important. And I suspect there's some truth to the statement for isn't it easier at times to retreat to the past rather than face what is present?

Now that I am home from France, I feel a bit off centered, out of balance. There's no drama associated with this feeling, no spectacular happening, or even something unusual I could point to that would explain the feeling.  And isn't that at the center of balance and not? There's little explanation, save what it is. For there's just this nagging understanding that my life doesn't feel quite right. 

Years ago, Rob introduced me to Godfrey Reggio's 1982 film, Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance. The word, Koyaanisqatsi, is from the Hopi language and it means unbalanced life. And though the film artfully presents the imbalances among humans, the environment, and the impact of technologies--the unbalance I feel is of a more intimate nature and yet is nonetheless unsteady. Things in my life aren't smooth. Living takes more energy than I recall needing in former years. Losing Rob means shifting from understanding our life to making my life. Nostalgia is an easy place to hide, even though remembering feels as bad as it does good.


Next month marks the one year anniversary when Rob and I found out that he had cancer. The shock of that diagnosis remains with me for neither of us imagined that the pain he had was a sign he had cancer. He had just a sharp pain across his lower right chest for a few weeks. He had no weight loss, no fatigue, no weakness, no dizziness, no other pains. He was only 60 and aches and pains came along with growing a bit older.  For the most part, he was himself with the exception of the nagging pain. He thought he pulled a muscle exercising and I agreed. We even laughed about our new exercise program and getting older. Who could ever imagine that just a few months later he would no longer be able to walk and 6 weeks beyond that we would learn he was dying? Such scale defies comprehension.

Rob walking down 120th Street in Manhattan

August 20th looms before me. Now I can still look back and recall Rob before the diagnosis. I see that loopy walk of his, a Brooklyn strut when I think of my husband. I see him carrying two cups of coffee to the table where I am waiting with our newspapers open on a July morning not unlike this one. Heat rising throughout the day. I see him 15 years earlier bounding down 120th Street coming from class towards me as I lift my camera and capture the moment, Devon playing beside me. I recall our life when we had no thoughts of dying. Some days I reread our calendar from last year to remember the ordinary ways we were living. Here's an appointment for a haircut. Here's a few days blocked off for when Devon's friends planned to visit. Such ordinary happenings. I can see that there's a reminder to me to call an inn in Maine we had stayed at for close to 30 years to plan a late summer holiday.  It's a call I didn't make for we learned the same week that Rob was ill and needed attention. 

We had planned to go to Portugal this past fall to celebrate our 25th anniversary. We needed to delay that trip as Rob's cancer treatment got underway and we could see it would stretch into November.  I remember saying to him, "No worries. We'll do it next year. " We thought initially that Rob would need just a month of radiation. Honestly, we were concerned, but after the shock wore off, we were not overly worried. I remember calming myself by thinking,  He's here. You can touch him. Stay in the moment. 

All of that changed within a week when Rob went in the hospital for a one-hour biopsy, and eight hours later was transported to intensive care. I remember thinking then that life as we knew it was no more. I wish I understood then that almost nothing the doctors would tell us during the next five months would be true, save the final diagnosis that Rob's cancer had progressed and the diagnosis was terminal.  On September 17 we would learn that Rob's cancer was stage 4 lung cancer--the cancer that claims the most lives each year. A week beyond that on the day he was scheduled for his first chemotherapy treatment we would learn that Rob had acquired a staph infection from surgery he underwent the week before to implant a port for treatment. From that point to his death, life was more nightmare than dream.


After Rob's death, life feels unfamiliar a good portion of the time. I still anticipate him, feel happy as I return home forgetting momentarily he won't be there. Devon and I are developing interests. Last night he grilled steaks for us and made a brandy-pepper sauce he had liked while in Paris. My son is a constant reminder of how life goes on and the list of new things he has done since Rob's death stretches the length of my arm.  

The closing line of The Great Gatsby is one I can say aloud without need of the text.  Nick, our faithful narrator tells us, 

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” 
The meaning of that line has never held still--changing across the 40 years I have known this book. Now though, the mourning comes through and it is so pertinent, so much a part of my breath. Each step forward is oddly a step back into the past, where nostalgia waits. I measure each new day with eyes clouded by memory.


  1. Each step forward is oddly a step back into the past, where nostalgia waits. I measure each new day with eyes clouded by memory. I read about your return from France and you described that imbalance, I remember feeling that imbalance when I returned from my trip to Cancun. I was there in our place without him and I returned home without him. Imbalance everywhere... August for me will be filled with that imbalance too... First a riverboat cruise in early August and then we get to mark our first year without him...I wonder how that will feel?
    We are marking those dates...Life still feels unfamiliar. What's very different for me is that Tuvia went fast... a flash- drinking coffee one minute, gone the next.. I wish you had had Rob's final days easier. What a blessing for you to have Devon.
    Have a good night, friend,

    1. Thank you Bonnie for sharing that portion of your story. Dev is a blessing.


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