Saturday, March 13, 2010

Stripes, Plaids, and Infinite Possibility

When I was teaching middle school, Einstein analogies were one of my pet peeves. For some reason parents never pointed to their own family members when explaining academic or behavioral tendencies, e.g., Little S's brother had trouble reading too until we got him some glasses. They always swung for the fences and implicated poor Albert.

Me: Mr. X, your son called me a bitch today in class. He has to serve detention tomorrow during recess

Mr. X.: That seems unfair. Einstein didn't speak in complete sentences until he was seven.

For all I know, some of these kids will grow up to be some of the greatest thinkers of our time so I suppose I shouldn't judge. The point is that it gets a little tedious which is why I hate to bring Albie up at all.

Last week I noticed an Einstein quote at the bottom of a colleague's email message. Now, quotes appended to emails are another thing that stick in my craw for some reason (perhaps because I'm approaching my coot-hood)but, I liked this one.

“Once you can accept the universe as being mostly nothing that is really something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy.”

For me, the entire experience of parenting a dead child has been about rearranging my perspective. I marched up the hill, saw what I can't have, and can't quite forget the view.

On the one hand I see good, old Albie's quote with my missing daughter on the front end, i.e., once you accept the fact that your infant daughter stopped breathing and is now stored inside a pink jar, everything else seems easy.

That's certainly how it felt in the early days when I was constantly shocked that the world kept moving without R. How could people complain about taxes or soup that's too salty or grass that's grown too shaggy when my daughter is dead? I spent a long time teetering on the brink of the bitter recluse lifestyle before I decided that C deserved better...and that a move into a crumbling Victorian mansion with a decrepit wrought iron gate just made no financial sense.

These days, I'd place R's death at the back end of the quote--just another of the infinite possibilities presented by an infinite universe where the gap between possible and impossible is virtually non-existent.

Yesterday my boss told me a story about a woman who used to work at our organization whose adult daughter was murdered years ago. The story just emerged from nowhere and went on and on with many segues into the whole I-don't-know-how-anyone-can-go-on-after-their-child-dies business. I couldn't tell if she was looking for me to impart some wisdom on the subject or if my role was to say that it was easier for me because R was a baby. I decided to keep my mouth shut and let her draw her own conclusions.

I appreciate that she has sympathy for people who have lost a child but I just didn't have the wherewithal to assume the spokesperson role at 8AM on a Friday during a meeting about a draft memo for the annual accountability reporting exercise.

I would've liked to have told her that we're all just a hair's breadth from disaster and that any horrible thing can happen to anyone at any time. And that if/when the unimaginable occurs, you just make your way through it because there is no choice. Impossible transforms to possible before you even realize what's happening and, amazingly, you keep breathing and moving and living and that's all there is.

And then I would've asked her if we wanted to capitalize the word 'priority' in all instances and she would have looked at me like I had sprouted antlers or maybe like I was wearing stripes and plaids together.