Pulling through is what people do around here. There is a kind of bravery in their lives that isn’t bravery at all. It is automatic, unflinching, a mix of man and machine, consuming and unquestionable obligation meeting illness move for move in a giant even-steven game of chess – an unending round of something that looks like shadowboxing, though between love and death, which is the shadow? “Everyone admires us for our courage,” says one man. “They have no idea what they’re talking about.”“Courage requires options,” the man adds.“There are options,” says a woman with a thick suede headband. “You could give up. You could fall apart.”“No you can’t. Nobody does. I’ve never seen it,” says the man. “Well, not really fall apart.
Staring out to sea, I finally forced myself to stop thinking of her as someone still somewhere, if only in memory, still obscurely alive, breathing, doing, moving, but as a shovelful of ashes already scattered; as a broken link, a biological dead end, an eternal withdrawal from reality, a once complex object that now dwindled, dwindled, left nothing behind except a l like a fallen speck of soot on a blank sheet of paper.
Grief can destroy you—or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. Or you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it. But when it’s over and you’re alone, you begin to see it wasn’t just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill. It was everything, it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it. The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss. “And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life.
In twenty years you could say and do a lot you wish you hadn't. In twenty years you could store up a lot of regrets. And then, when it was too late, when there was no one left to say "I'm sorry" to, "I didn't mean it" to, you could stop sleeping for regret, stop eating, talking, working, for regret. You could stop wanting to live. You could want to die for regret.It was only remembering the good times that kept you from taking the knife from the kitchen drawer and, holding it so, tightly in your fist, on the bed, naked to no purpose except that that was how you came into the world and how your best moments in the world had been spent--holding it so, roll onto the blade, slowly so that it slid like love between your ribs and into that stupidly pumping muscle in your chest that kept you regretting.
I thought about Mother’s life, the part of it I knew. Going to work every day, first on the ferry then on the bus. Shopping at the old Red-and-White then at the new Safeway - new, fifteen years old! Going down to the Library one night a week, taking me with her, and we would come home on the bus with our load of books and a bag of grapes we bought at a Chinese place, for a treat. Wednesday afternoons too when my kids were small and I went over there to drink coffee and she rolled us cigarettes on that contraption she had. And I thought, all these things don’t seem that much like life, when you’re doing them, they’re just what you do, how you fill up your days, and you think all the time something is going to crack open, and you’ll find yourself, then you’ll find yourself, in life. It’s not even that you particularly want this to happen, this cracking open, youre comfortable enough the way things are, but you do expect it. Then you’re dying, Mother is dying, and it’s just the same plastic chairs and plastic plants and ordinary day outside with people getting groceries and what you’ve had is all there is, and going to the Library, just a thing like that, coming back up the hill on the bus with books and a bag of grapes seems now worth wanting, O god doesn’t it, you’d break your heart wanting back there.