December 25, 2012

Extracting the Essence

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Ann @ 12:06 pm

I Don't Know How to Love You

When I first met my partner, Neal, back in 1988, during one of our marathon talks he described his goal of not simply “eating the hamburger,” but “eating the hell out of the hamburger” — in other words, not just enjoying, but enjoying to the fullest. It puts me in mind of bumper-sticker advice that was popular a few years back: “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, ‘WOW . . . What a ride!’” Used up. Maximum enjoyment. Years later, Neal and I splurged on a pricey dinner while taking a riverboat cruise. As the waiter served our meals, Neal and I made a pact to eat as slowly as possible, not only savoring each bite but taking turns describing the flavors and textures to each other. Looking back, I realize that was our attempt to totally immerse ourselves, extracting the essence of the Experience.

I’ve thought about this concept a lot over the years. How does one go about fully appreciating something? I think our unspoken quest to do this underlies our obsession with cameras. There have been times when I have been looking at something of exquisite beauty — a cloud formation, an intensely-colored rainbow streaking across a pewter-gray sky — and I have actually caught myself in the process of yearning for ways to fully capture and embrace everything I was seeing. Sometimes that yearning manifests in the wish that I could take a photo, but even that would not preserve the perfect aching moment of raw, lived experience.

As I write this, my family has gathered in the East Bay from several corners of the United States in order to carry out two tasks: to mourn the death of my sister, who was taken from us suddenly eight days ago, and to celebrate Christmas as enthusiastically as mourners can. Last night we were all at my parents’ house in Pinole and I as I looked from face to face — my son, my grandson, my nephews, my nieces, my Mom and Dad, my brother — that old feeling came to visit: How can I fully appreciate the wonder of this experience, that we are all together, that I can actually reach out and touch my niece who lives in Tennessee, someone I can normally only keyboard with? What would that look like, that deep appreciation? Walking around the room and holding each family member, gazing into their eyes for long minutes? They’d think I lost my mind.

I don’t have an answer. The result is that every time I am in a moment of Grave Importance — beholding beauty in nature or sitting in a room full of loved ones — I always feel a spine-scratching anxiety, something like the inner voice whispering, “Remember this, this is important, soak it up, take it in.” But I’m never sure I’ve enjoyed it enough, certainly not in proportion to its monumental import.

I believe that our inability to express our love as fully as we feel it manifests not only in our desire to capture our feelings on camera (or, as artists and poets know, on canvas or in verse) but also in our desire to merge with the object of our adoring gaze. And I’m not referring to intimate merging (although loving partners will know that yearning). Many times I’ve been out in nature and have felt such a surge of gratitude for the beauty around me that I wanted to become one with the landscape. You think tree-huggers are weird? I think they’re just acting out that primal dilemma: “I don’t know how to love you enough but that’s not going to stop me from trying.”

This morning there are photos of Christmas Eve pasted all over Facebook, attempts at capturing last night’s gathering. And I’m glad we have the photos. I’m glad we have the memories. It’s just that I’m still working on a way of extracting the essence of all that love and beauty in the moment that it surrounds me. I still don’t know how to do it. What’s worse, looking back over this blog piece, I realize I don’t even know how to write about it.

December 17, 2012

Lessons from Linda

Filed under: Memory Eternal,My Sister Linda — Ann @ 5:49 pm

My Sister Linda

As I write this, my 64-year-old sister, Linda, has just been taken off life support (or, as the medical team called it, “transitioned to comfort care”). In what is probably a most extraordinary case of more fortune than I deserve, I have never before experienced the loss of someone deeply, profoundly close to me, and never before a member of my immediate family. My parents, thankfully, are nearing 90 years old and (knock wood) quite strong and healthy.

One thing I have learned from the past few days is that you learn from death, or near-death, from the moment it enters your awareness. I’ve been on this planet for many years and yet, in the span of over 48 hours, since I first found out that my sister collapsed and was in a coma, I have grown in awareness at exponential rates. Some of the lessons learned — in fact, most of them — are too personally painful to discuss.

But one thing can be revealed: I now know what I will no longer say to others who are grieving. Because for most of my adult life, when someone I knew lost someone they loved, I wrote on the carefully chosen sympathy card, “May sweet memories bring you comfort” or variations thereof, believing that would actually be the case. And maybe that is true for others. But for me, I’m learning that memories of Linda do NOT in fact bring comfort — they only bring fresh pain, a new wave of tears, and a ferocious stabbing sensation to the heart. Who could have known this? Please don’t misunderstand: I don’t mind if people say it to me, because I know the sentiment is manifested love and shining intention, which I accept with a grateful, humble heart. But it’s something I will no longer be writing or saying to others because now….well, now I understand.

Perhaps someday memories of Linda will indeed bring comfort. Right now, the only thing that gives me comfort is, well, nothing. Nothing except the fantasy of turning the clock back a week when I was certain I’d be seeing my sister on Christmas Eve, and we would be exchanging big hugs and how are yous and I love yous and all of the comforting rituals.

I’m just beginning to learn, and this is one thing I know now that I didn’t know before. It’s something my big sister taught me.

Powered by WordPress Hosted by