Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Little Soul

Have you ever given yourself a headache contemplating the nature of existence? Just look around--thumbdrive, catalog, coaster, dog. What prehistoric butterfly flapped its wings at just the right speed, at just the right time, in just the right location to make all of this possible? Did a supreme being really come up with all of this in 6 days? Is it turtles all the way down? Is TracyOC actually 13-year-old who just smoked weed for the first time?

We all experience multiple iterations of reality and multiple associated epiphanies in our lifetimes. Just to be clear, I'm talking about these types of moments -

So, that's what makes my brother a boy!
Wait a minute, where does the stork come in?
Jesus! Darth Vader's his father?!

For me, each of these moments is immediately followed by a brief mental recap.

Why didn't I know this already?
Does everyone else know about this?
What else is lurking out there waiting to surprise me?

The earth rocks a bit and I float up out of myself for a moment before feeling that things are mostly the way I previously understood them to be. Reality has expanded a bit but I'm still more or less the same.

Some epiphanies are bigger than others.

I remember sitting by my father's bedside a couple of days before he died. This was at the beginning of his second week in the ICU after he'd ripped the central line from his neck and attempted to escape. He was heavily medicated and disoriented by the toxins that had built up in his body as his liver failed but we were alone for what might be the last time ever and I decided that I should probably say my good-byes. I told him that I would miss him and that it was ok to stop fighting. The image of him trying to get his eyes to open and focus on me is burned into my brain.

This is death.
This is life.
The world is not as I believed it to be but, it's ok because now I know.

The problem is that a lot of people don't know. The other problem is that the people who do know don't like to talk about it in front of those who don't know. I mean, jeez, are you trying to ruin their whole day or what?

Crazy that I still worry about ruining someone's day by sharing the experiences that shattered my entire life but, I do worry about it and I bet you do too.

This is life.

The big epiphanies tend to spawn after-epiphanies (and blogs).

I found myself joking about slow elevators with a complete stranger at work last week. My regional office only has 900-odd employees so I suppose there are no complete strangers but, I'd never met this guy before. I can't remember what I said but it made him laugh and we spent a few floors smiling and trading elevator stories.

I got off at my floor and I thought to myself, "See. You're still in there."

I actually thought that--in exactly those words. I smiled and nodded and congratulated myself on getting back in touch with my inner smartass.

The feeling of satisfaction lasted approximately 12 seconds. By the time I was back in my cube I was berating myself for daring to gripe about an elevator that still exists in a world without my daughter. R is dead and you have the nerve to complain about an elevator? Take the f*cking stairs if you don't like it.

If someone else said it to me I'd probably knock his teeth down his throat. I don't know why I'm letting myself get away with taking such an absurd position. After all, there's no prize for being the most miserable.

This is death.
This is life.

Clearly life will go on but I feel stuck in mid-air. I'm waiting for the next epiphany that will place me back on my feet, the one that tells me how a formerly unrepentant, irreverent smartass navigates the world as a half-bereaved mother.

I'm not really one for poetry but I came across this a few months ago when I decided that a responsible citizen ought to know a little bit about the poet laureate and it's been rolling around in my head since.

This is Merwin's interpretation of a poem written by the Roman emperor, Hadrian (I lifted it from here).

Little Soul


Little soul little stray
little drifter
now where will you stay
all pale and all alone
after the way
you used to make fun of things


  1. Yes, I do worry. Why I worry so much about other people's feelings when I'm the one with the recently dead son, I don't know. I also have a hard time cutting myself slack - slack I would gladly cut for others anytime. I don't know why I do that, either.

    I am, apparently, quite the mystery to myself.

  2. TracyOC, between the viking hats and the Merwin, you're MVP of the week! But mostly, I wanted to say that I, too, worry about how much to say and how much to hide. Three and a half years later, I still can't answer the question of how many children I have. Just today I sent a note to a friend who may or may not have a baby with a congenital or chromosomal issue. It took me days to send a follow-up to an earlier note, because I respect her too much to lay on platitudes, but I want to comfort her also. I tried for pragmatism, but I guess if she wanted reassurance, she came to the wrong place.

    I think you should feel satisfied that you could carry on with the elevator talk when elevator talk is called for. As you said so well, you must choose, but you can change your mind as often as you need to.

  3. I absolutely understand. So to answer your question, yes, I have given myself a headache contemplating the nature of existence. All the bloody time. And now I have one again!
    Great post.

  4. 'Does everyone else know about this?' I must do this particular mental recap about five times a day. At least.

    I think I remember you writing about letting go and holding on simultaneously, to the right degree. Some of both. And I had an epiphany of my own. But on this occasion I didn't wonder if everyone else knew about this because I don't think the majority of people I know have ever had to try and figure that one out. Not yet anyhow.

    Perhaps it is like that with being miserable or being an irreverent smartass? Or even life and death. As Audrey says, perhaps it's just knowing when to change your mind.

    If you ever figure it all out (and heaven knows I've got my hopes pinned on you Tracy because I don't think I'm in with even an outside chance) you will let me know won't you?

    The paragraph about your father, I just don't know what to write. That I'm sorry seems inadequate but it's all I've got. I'm sorry.

  5. nice post.

    my head hurts too much to come up with a better comment.