Sometimes somebody tells you something so sad it takes away your voice. Maybe for a minute you stop breathing. You want to answer. You know it’s important to answer. But the words have all gone underground. Maybe if you’re face to face you offer a hug, some small gesture, to bear witness.
Someone told me today that she enjoys my blog. One of the reasons she gave is that it’s short. I always feel like it’s way too long. I delete more than I post, partly out of that fear of talking too much. (I just deleted the rest of this paragraph. I’ll probably never post this blog at all).
The full moon rose today over Provincetown harbor before sunset. High tide isn’t till almost midnight and I’m staying in the place I love best, possibly in the whole world, where at a really high tide I’m over water, not land. Has anyone ever explained how it is that some places feel as much like family, like home, as certain people do? (Yeah, actually, there are writers who do this all the time). How we can be as unmoored by being too far from the beloved home for too long, as we can, being wrenched from the people we love? I have lived in such a state of motion that I never really understood rootedness until I longed for home so hard I had to go back. It became imperative, and the more I went the less it was enough to just visit. There’s more to say about this but I don’t know if I’ll get there (to saying it) anytime soon. Except to say, I don’t know what it is for you, but for me, home is not where I was raised. Home is the place I was loved. It was to that land that my soul attached, and it’s a bodily knowing, a thrumming bone-deep, when that particular landscape rolls into view.
I’m still dumbstruck by the story a friend intimated, just earlier this evening. Do you ever wonder how people survive the things they survive?
On the plane earlier today I got through one and a half of the manuscript submissions I brought to read. The first is a keeper and I need to send that poet the good news. The second I just could not face. Instead I opened Ann Patchett’s Run.
If the opening passage is any indication it will be as brilliant as State of Wonder, which even if I loved the book less for other reasons, I would still love dearly for one small thing she wrote in it that explains something about love that I know is true, maybe I always knew it was true, and I have never been able to articulate anything about it. So to find the demonstration of this truth in a novel was for me extraordinary, a moment of sheer pleasure.
The waves are lapping sand a few feet from where I’m typing this. The curtains are closed but I know the moon’s still out there doing her thing. Sometimes things come into your life at strange times that don’t seem to make any sense and you feel guilty for your good luck or utterly lost from your misfortune, and then later, looking back, it’s all taken on such very similar colors. I’m not explaining this very well, I know. Sometimes it seems to me that having suffered through a severe illness, and then the treatments for that illness which were more imminently harrowing than the disease itself, and then the grindingly slow recovery with its own tedious details and complications–that whole passage seems not all that different from a lot of other things. Like working too many jobs at once to pay the rent in NYC, or like hating the place I was in school (over and over). Or like opening a letter from a friend who had written it on watercolor paper and actually made paintings in between the written parts (or the other way round)–the most physically amazing letter I ever received. A work of art. Or like the day I walked into the cafeteria where I was in school and realized there was not one edible thing in there. Right before I dropped out.
The point is, stories are stories, and mine are a mish mash like most people’s. A few of them are ecstatic, some are really sad, most are a less dramatic admixture of emotional tones.
My friend, who told me the really sad story, is not defined by it. I am pretty sure about that. And it seems to me so sad, it is a kind of miracle not to be defined by it. But some stories teach us how little we know. This is one of them for me. I heard this story and one of the things I felt was, I don’t know anything. I never thought this story could be true, but it’s true and that means I know less than nothing. All I knew to do was to start writing.
I lost a friend this month, possibly the most important influence on me. Someone I’d known almost my whole life. We cherished one another. The night before she left this world, she phoned to tell me a story about something that had happened that day. We laughed, and talked, and laughed, for more than an hour. I was writing when she called. I haven’t been able to write much, for months, and I wouldn’t have picked up the phone for just about anybody else. She seemed to know she had interrupted. She apologized, and said, “I couldn’t have told anybody else this story, but I knew you’d understand.”
Tonight I’m heartbroken, for the loss of my longtime friend, for the heartache of another friend’s story. And it’s true, at the same moment, I feel so ridiculously fortunate, so filled with wonder and a kind of quiet joy (can I even write that out loud?) to be sitting here with the sound of the waves caressing. To know, and have known, some amazing and deeply beautiful humans, and other creatures. To have remembered what home is, and how much I need it.
We cling to life not only because we fear death, but because life is so inexpressibly, humblingly, astonishingly beautiful.
(Sorry this one ran so long, M.)