Sunday, September 22, 2019

Live to the Point of Tears


Tree Lines (M.A. Reilly, acrylic paint, gesso, citra-solv)
"Honesty is reached through the doorway of grief and loss," writes David Whyte in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. "Honesty is not found in revealing the truth, but in understanding how deeply afraid of it we are. To become honest is in effect to become fully and robustly incarnated into powerlessness."

Loss brings the opportunity for honesty, in part because it allows us to know in our bones that powerlessness is unavoidable. Four years ago, most everything I thought I knew to be true became opaque, less clear and the world more topsy-turvy.  By mid-September, 2015, we had seen the oncologist, learned Rob had stage 4 lung cancer, and Rob had scheduled his first chemotherapy session for later in the month.  What we did not know at that moment was that a week earlier a surgeon had placed an infected port into my husband's chest and altered any chance at life he might have had.

I was reminded of all of that and the five months that followed when I received an email from a friend on the West coast last night. When I opened it what first caught my attention was that new email was written in response to an email I had sent 3 years and 7 months earlier, explaining that Rob had died. This caught me unaware.

Loss does not leave a body.  It carries a breath-stealing punch that surfaces without any self-will. It rises full force stirring the acid in the gut, the heart.

A wolf to the throat.


In the trail of emails back and forth, I read the new message: the mother of a friend of Dev's from childhood had died. Agnes Kurdyla Lauria was just 48.


After Rob died I found myself paying attention to death notices as if some insights I so desperately wanted could be fathomed through the loss of another.  The year Rob died, so too did David Bowie, who lived 9 years more than Rob. I measured every one's death by the plus or minus of years from when Rob's life ended.  I did this automatically, without thought. The way I organized time was redefined.

This morning I am wondering once again why good people die. This is not productive thinking and I know that, but nonetheless the thoughts rise and with them come the unknowable, the unanswerable. Agnes, like Rob, was a beloved teacher. I can recall when she first was hired as a basic skills teacher and the many conversation we had while waiting for or collecting our children from school or a sleepover.  Her child, Alex, like mine is just 20-years-old.

How could two sweet children each lose a parent so early in their lives? 


Perhaps asking, "Why do good people die early?" is a place holder for a more important observation.  Whyte explains:

The French philosopher Camus used to tell himself quietly to live to the point of tears, not as a call for maudlin sentimentality, but as an invitation to the deep privilege of belonging and the way belonging affects us, shapes us and breaks our heart at a fundamental level. It is a fundamental dynamic of human incarnation to be moved by what we feel, as if surprised by the actuality and privilege of love and affection and its possible loss. Courage is what love looks like when tested by the simple everyday necessities of being alive.

Life happens whether we have a hand in designing it or not.  Each breath that breaks tells us we belong.