Small and New

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New Year’s Day. The end of it, actually. I’m sitting in front of a Christmas tree that’s lovely but needle-brittle.  It has another few days in it, maybe, before we box up the lights and baubles and drag it to the curb.

The truth is, I don’t know what to say. I feel like I’m supposed to say something reflective, sage. I’m supposed to be optimistically looking into this next trip around the sun, invoking its mystery, waiting for it to unfold in front of me.

And there is some of that in me right now, but it feels a little brittle, too. A little fractured. This last year was really hard for many people around me.  There was a lot of loss, and some of it of the most desperate, final kind. The violent death of a spouse. The unspeakable death of a child.  I’m left more than a little in awe of how a person goes on.

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When it happens, as it did happen, you scramble to find a purchase in the slippery soil of someone else’s grief. It’s not your wife. It’s not your child, but it’s not a great leap to imagine yourself stricken so. We do this. Every loss is practice. Every death is really our own.

In your scrambling, you think of how to be of use. Maybe you send care packages through the mail–good olive oil so his meals, at least, will be delicious, and toys for his children who have lost their mother. Maybe you cook and deliver meals to a colleague who has lost her grown son. Maybe you wander around a discount store, gathering items you imagine could soothe for a basket to place on her desk. For when she must leave the strange cocoon of mourning and return to the world, which will have changed for her in ways you cannot imagine.

You don’t want to imagine.

Candle. Tea cup. Chocolate bar. Does anyone really think hand cream is any kind of balm? Could it even, in this context, be an affront? Under bright pre-holiday fluorescence, you choose items and feel ridiculous, but remember the bowl of chocolate ice cream someone put in front of you when your father died. The smallest step back. Toward.

In the end, you lean on words. Of course you do. You try to text several times a day--just checking in; thinking of you. You call and let him talk or not talk. You listen to her tell stories about when he was as young as your own son is now.

And you write.

I mean, of course, that I write. I write blog posts that veer into the second person as a way of distancing myself from impossible pain. I write emails and sympathy cards, Facebook posts and poems. I think of how my year was bookended by deaths which had no connection to me except that they ravaged people I care about deeply. I think of how small I am in the face of those deaths, and also of how much a single word has meant to me in my life, during my own losses.

I make no plans for the new year, no proclamations or resolutions. I know how a life can turn in a day, overnight, in one quick moment.

I want to love and be here. That’s enough.

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