I found two such clutches of words today; two snippets of stories that said Yes! This is real; this is true. My need for confirmation of experience and communion of thought drove me to a bookstore: for me, a holy place.
Christmas Day is six days off and I have no precedent for this, my 51st (or 52nd?) winter. I have been bereft of my husband and marriage for just over three months, and I have been ill for nearly three years. The illness -- its presence, its seeming ruttedness -- works on me in ways that I can't apprehend until long into the work itself, this strange work that scours away who I was and beckons me to be well ... even while ill. This paradox of being well while ill is ruthless at times, stripping away from my body what my mind and soul long to replenish: vitality, strength, full presence. The word chronicity flares like a marquee in front of my inner eye; it cannot help but be there, a main attraction and question at this three-year mark ...
Along come two books into my hands. One is a novel, the other a memoir. I hadn't known of either of these books before today; one of them, I already know, will become a bible -- a holy book of wisdom.
From each of these books sprang a Yes! This is real ... They spoke to my current state, these oracles of empathy:
... I'm the one apart and hesitant ... sidestepping the tide of those in genuine and deliberate transit ... I drift just outside the echoes and thrums of journeys that are not mine, the endings and beginnings of missions, diversions, pilgrimages, expeditions. I observe lives unlike mine, full of imperative planned destinations ...
... I wear a taint of rationing, that's all. I have the thready, ashamed look of a reduced person who assumes there is a worse reduction to come ...
... If events have halted a life's narrative as utterly as death itself, how do I go on as if I believed in mere continuation, never mind solace and amends?
(Morag Joss, The Night Following)
... No one asks for this, ever, at any age. But what can we do when it arrives as an actuality in our family or in ourselves? How can we meet the calamity of the threat; the loss of everything we hold dear and that most fundamentally characterizes us or someone we know and love? How can we even contemplate the loss of the memories of the near and sometimes also the distant past, of the ability to be reliably oriented, effortlessly and consistently, within time and space, to say nothing of the web of our relationships and purposes? ... How are we called to be in relationship to such a turn of fate when it happens to someone we love?
(Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his foreword to Ten Thousand Joys & Ten Thousand Sorrows: A Couple's Journey Through Alzheimer's, by Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle)
I brought these books home, and hold them close. Ten Thousand Joys ... particularly grabbed me. I've not (yet?) been in close relationship with someone who succumbed to Alzheimer disease ... but on every page of this book, I see myself and everyone I know. The universality of illness and injury, of loss, of death ... and the deeper pervasions of grace, mercy, and love which sustain what is human and humane in us when we are stricken ... One review blurb for the book refers to "the majesty of loving" that is immediately evident in the narrative -- I've only read two pages of the foreword and glanced through the three pages of grateful endorsements that precede the title page, and already this book has affected me so deeply that I weep when I hold it in my hands. I shook while standing in the bookstore, skimming the pages. I weep because the long-married couple whose story this is "made it" ... even though one of them died of a horrific illness. This couple, a man and a woman who always called each other "Honey", remained wedded with one another through the entire experience of one's diagnosis, diminishment, dementia (within a conscious awareness that managed to remain occasionally intact even toward the end) and dying ... The one who remains now has written a testament to their love that evokes my nowhere-to-put-it rage and grief at the death of my own marriage.
I've read the table of contents several times now; with chapters like "You Can't Mess With Bach" and "Get Your Dyin' Done Early", the book is irresistible. Another chapter heading, "The Grace of Diminishment" left me slack-jawed in the bookstore; how perfectly those four words offer me a new understanding of things to aspire to ... !