Thursday, October 18, 2012
Grit and Rambling
I've been composing a post in my head for several days now in response to the stories I hear on the radio. That's pretty normal for me. I fill up the sink, add the soap, fire up the radio, open a beer and seethe/laugh/weep while I wash the dishes. There's no curtain on the window above the sink. I'm surprised that the neighbors haven't sent the authorities to come and collect me yet.
The radio stories are unrelated. Except that they're about life and, you know, everything is sort of related when you consider the (say it with me now) interconnected nature of our existence and the unlimited possibilities presented by our vast and ever-expanding universe.
I'll endeavor to get a grip someday. Or maybe I'll just take up smoking and buy some black turtlenecks.
The thing on my mind is the future. Maybe you could call it the "unknown" or the "getting through" or the "going on". It's the thing that "can't be imagined" when you share your historic tragedy(ies) with someone and he or she says in response, "I just can't imagine."
I'm going to veer off on a tangent here because this is a common topic among the grief-stricken. When the recipient of bad news says it--"I can't imagine"-- my first reaction is always to think, "Sure you can. In fact, you're imagining your loved one's cold, dead body right now." But, now that more time has passed, I see that all of those people are right. I don't think anyone can comprehend what forever feels like until you've been at it for a few years.
So, I heard several stories last week that made a dent in my brain but two stand out--and, no, I'm not going to bombard you with more politics. First was the amazing episode of "This American Life" about near-death experiences (but not in a Shirley Maclaine sort of way) and second was a radio documentary on a charter school's attempts to get kids in low-income families into college and through to graduation. There was no overlap in these stories except that they all spent some time zeroing-in on the isolation factor of surviving something that either isn't familiar to your peers or isn't part of the mainstream narrative.
The first part of that TAL episode was just incredible. I actually heard it on my way to the grocery store the first time and re-listened at the sink (so that I could simultaneously laugh and weep in front of a window in view of as many people as possible).
And the story on the charter schools with all of the teachers and administrators puzzling over the role that 'grit' plays in future success. Why do some of these kids have 'what it takes' while some of them don't? How can these kids get through hunger and poverty and abuse and then throw their hands up when confronted with something as awesome as college? I was actually making tortilla soup but, if the neighbors were watching, they probably assumed that I was threatening someone with a slow, painful death at the point of that knife I kept waving around.
I know that I'm running afoul of my own beliefs co-opting other peoples' experiences when I say this but I felt like I have been in this place where there is just so much bizarre, bad news to share that there is neither a good way to speak to other humans about it nor a good way to avoid talking about it and there is no way to put it behind you while you assume your place in society and proceed along a conventional, approved path.
Because you can't imagine...
I'm well into the future/unknown/getting through/going on phase of things. My coping mechanisms are in place. Can't be totally sure but, to the folks I interact with daily, I believe that I appear to have shrugged it off or buckled down or mustered my strength/faith/hope.
It's exhausting to force my mind to care about conventional things. I can actually feel it on me like a hand pushing against my chest, slowing me down, cutting off the oxygen when I walk into the office each morning knowing that I will have to treat my work as if I believe it's important enough to take me away from my surviving daughter for the next 8 hours.
The 'grit' that those researchers were looking for in those college hopefuls...what is it? Why do some people have more? What do I do after I've used it all up, emptied my tank? Can I get more? Where does it come from?
I get up and go to work and coach the soccer team and cook dinner and laugh at stupid jokes and carry on conversations about home repair and traffic. Apparently, I have the 'it' at the center of 'what it takes' but, truthfully, even here, in the midst of what seems to be healthy coping, I can't imagine how I will get up and do it all over again tomorrow. I can't imagine.
I think we're all born with the ability to develop and use grit. Some people are just forced to dig too deep, too often or too deep, too early. I can't believe that this wasn't part of the radio story I heard. After you've struggled with something real...really real...it's hard to re-calibrate.
You know the feeling of your first post-loss baby shower or meet-up with a friend who has no dead babies or conversation with someone you haven't seen in years. It's fucking torture. How many of these things have you tried to avoid? How worn out did you feel afterwards?
I think this experience is comparable in some ways to the story about the kids in the charter school. Imagine fighting your way out of a hellhole and moving into a dorm where people are bitching about cell phone minutes and grades. How long would you last? Does anyone have that much grit?
I can't imagine how I will continue but I know that I will.
I will wake up tomorrow morning and R will still be dead and the other babies will also be dead and C will still be a mortal who is capable of dying at any moment and so will all of your living children. I will sit at my desk and try to make a difference with my limited influence. I will buy a new bottle of shampoo because my hair just comes a little too limp when I use T's.
I can't decide if this is horrible or heroic or something completely ordinary that doesn't have to be either horrible or heroic.
Remember R. Remember all of them.
Remember that we're out of mustard.
I watched a bird with a broken foot try to land on a wire . At first he was part of a group of 6 or so--starlings, flitting from place to place in that half graceful, half robotic way that birds have. Gradually, through the accumulated fractions of seconds picked up on each landing and take-off, the other birds outdistanced him. A hard-wired, bird activity suddenly requiring careful negotiation, time, energy.
I don't know what happened next. I kept walking to catch the train to the city.