There have been four funerals this year — and one in waiting. I hadn’t anticipated any of them, like headlights glaring through the blur of dense fog, death had arrived at my front door, uninvited and unannounced. I had read much about the nature of grief, in a world that has done its best to disavow it, tried to wrestle with the stillborn deaths of all the words and pictures that had waited with bloom to enter the world and died before they had time to breathe. Birthed the ground shattering screams of women gone silent before they had time to tell the truth and held wake for the many parts of me that left in my living, but never four funerals in one year — and- one in waiting.
“So much death this year…” I told her. Her reply that, death had simply begun visiting me for awhile, implicating its arrival as personal rather than global. I wondered if it was just a sign that I was growing older — a wonder that visits me often these days as mortality and limitation make themselves known. The landscape of maturity begins its workings on the edges of my youth. I am but a shadow of the dreamer I used to be. The dreamer whose world was once an ocean of rippled opportunities and unexplored frontiers, whose limitations were nothing more than outlines waiting to be bent, manipulated, rolled between two fingers until the desired consistency was just right. They told us we could be anything, so when we found ourselves between that wall and its unforgiving mutability, we attributed it only to our personal failures. We became the outlines waiting to bend.
“The only thing I know to be true about you, is that the next time I see you, you will be a completely different you” were the words he offered graciously, I taking them in with an air of nobility. They seemed such an apt description of something I was always working at defining. An eclipse of identity, born from the desire to stitch meaning into the passageways of my life, the dark and dreary, mundane and profound, a desire to live closely to the currents of something old, to locate myself in a trusted, tried, true subterranean wisdom. Perhaps it was because the world was growing more and more artificial and these were my efforts of making it more palatable. Perhaps it was because the fabrication of the outer world had grown so untrustworthy, the only thing I could depend on was something old, repeated, repetitious and rhythmic, resounding over space and time. But the ground was always shifting. Every time I stumbled upon something that echoed an old unknown familiarity, the landscape contorted. Shifting floor tiles into mazes I would yet again wander through, searching, searching, searching for something, it’s aim as unreliable as the ground it was standing on. Some part of me always knew I was searching for security, but it always sounded prettier to call it truth.
An old man in a sitcom, I watched recently, said “when you get to be my age, there is nothing new to look forward to, you have moved through everything you once dreamed about, now it’s just a series of memories, of looking backwards at what already was”. If it weren’t for the way my stomach drops or the pit that begins gnawing within it, or the way my mouth hangs frozen in mid-chew as some arbitrary scene dazzles forward with its emboldened frame of an otherwise static sitcom, I’d wonder why this holds so much weight. It doesn’t feel like something I should relate to. Maybe it’s because of all those eclipses of identity, the birthing and the dying , creating and destroying, the former lives and lovers, careers and spouses or the fact that I am raising a teenager and parents of teenagers aren’t supposed to be this young. I wonder if it’s because the world spoke to me too soon, invited me into her caves and caverns, had me record what was invisibly scrawled upon her walls, always begging for a witness so her imposed rigidity would become worn. They knew light made shadows disappear but the loss of darkness would cut away the re-generation needed to prevent them from going blind. We were a culture addicted to sun.
All seeds begin in darkness. It was because he passed onto me his love of the soil that I had come to know that. It was also what I tried to teach her, when we were walking in the fall. About how trees let leaves go naturally and how they did so boldly and brazenly, silently and beautifully, and how much would be lost if the trees forced their leaves to stay. I hoped these long walks in the forest would prepare her for the inevitable loss that life would impart to her. That she might come to know these disappearances as living, breathing, necessities that made life possible, instead of being shattered by a gaping emptiness where something solid once was, like I had been, in the confectionary insulation of suburban horizons. The neon florescent light of sprawling urban centers erasing the mystery of my ancestor’s skies.
She died on a cold November Tuesday, a week after her desperation clung to his elbow, while pleading for protection from her destined demise. She had lived her life under streetlights; her skin burnt by the blaze of the balmy summer sun, though the disappearances were frequent, nobody told her they had been part of the plan. But I was no stranger to the quell of the dark, the impenetrable helplessness of human fragility shorn up against the face of cultural adversity. Their attempts at erasure sentenced me to the belonging of a house made of straws, lost along the invisible edges with all the other abandoned things. Security was a fantasy, born of mythic human proportions and they had created an entire culture of it; their wrought iron fences and addictions of speed, the full spectrum lights and their ravenous consumptive greed.
Five funerals in one year, each dying as unique as snowflakes, one filled with courageous invitation, another a soft, silent surrender, two blessed with a long lingering life of horizons and night skies, one catastrophic tumbling into a darkness we failed to prepare her for. For so many years I have resented those disappearances, the dark blankets that cast shadows over that single unprepared-for hole, tinkering and tweaking and trying to make whole. Yet alone in the shadows of those darkened pews, what to make of this mortality and its ever delicate fuse?