Friday, November 4, 2016

#SOL16: A Link in the Chain

from my art journal - Two Women, 2016


It's the things you never needed, nor wanted to notice, that cut so deeply. Like this morning in Starbucks. I was waiting for a cup of mint tea when I overheard the barista say to a customer, "Boy am I tired. By the time my husband and I got home..."

Now, it wasn't her words. I stopped hearing her immediately. I couldn't tell you what she or the man she was speaking with said next.  No, it's not the words. Rather, it's the tone. Yes, the tone. The tone was too dear, too familiar. The intonation carried far more meaning than the words, tugged at a memory that didn't quite take shape.  I got the tea and then left.

Later, driving home from work I felt blind anger rising up, swarming about me. Nothing happened, I thought. Why am I feeling this? No reason surfaced.

It would be hours later when I remembered the woman and the sound of respect and love that was communicated when she uttered, my husband.  I knew the sound those words signified: love and respect. All of that and more was conveyed when she simply said, my husband.

And at that moment, she embodied all I had lost.


Every utterance, Mikhail Bakhtin (1986) tells us is a "link in the chain of speech communion" (p. 76). I was thinking of this as I walked at dusk. It had been a two-walk day. I was out of sorts, unanchored. In accepting Rob's death, the sadness shifted a bit revealing more of myself draped in all of this sorrow. It hurts to see the darkness surrounding me.

While walkings, I was listening to On Being--an older interview by Pico Iyer of Krista Tippett. She  was speaking about her recent book about wisdom. She said,
...then there is also this paradox that we are so often made by what would break us. And I think this is where our spiritual traditions, where spiritual life is so redemptive and necessary, because this is the place in life that says — that honors the fact that there’s darkness — but also says “And you can find meaning right there,” right? Not — it’s not overcoming it. It’s not beyond it. It’s not in spite of it. What goes wrong doesn’t have to define us but, I mean, again, to come back to what wisdom is, as I’ve seen it, it’s people who walk through whatever darkness, whatever hardship, whatever imperfection and unexpected catastrophes or the like, the huge and the ordinary losses of any life, who walk through those and integrate them into wholeness on the other side. That you’re whole and healed, not fixed. Not in spite of those things, but because of how you have let them be part of you.
Mine is an ordinary loss, typical really. And it is the ordinary happenings--the losses and joys and sadnesses and confusions that link us. Our talk of these to one another bind us, helps us perhaps to honor the darkness that (in)forms such loss. Bakhtin writes, "Each utterance is filled with echoes and reverberations of other utterances to which it is related by the communality of the sphere of speech communication" (p. 96).  The woman behind the counter at Starbucks is a repository for the preceding voices, the dwelling place of memories where my husband resides.

What gets forged each day as I make my way is a kind of strength that knows surrender at its heart. The anger I feel stems, in part, from understanding that medical errors that could have been avoided but were not left Rob unable to climb two stairs, unable to reason, unable to know what was real and what was fantasy, unable to be the partner I had known or the consistent father to our son. It left him not able to write the letter he told me he wanted to write to Devon. And though we had five months left from the diagnosis, the sadder truth is that we had barely a week for once the first staph infection ravaged his body his decline was mostly vertical.

There's a darkness to all of this. And yes, I am angry that the carelessness of one doctor and the poor judgment of a second stole the little time Rob, Dev and I had; stole my husband's slim chance to live.

Tonight the moon is a waxing crescent and beneath it I am wondering what I am becoming. Here in this dark place, light breaks like hope.


Bakhtin, Mikhail.  (1986). "The Problem of Speech Genres." Speech Genres, and Other Late Essays. Trans. Vern W. McGee. Ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press.

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