Today, more snow. Dry, chaotic flakes falling in soft, twisting loops. The single plow in Santa Fe could not clear the roads for public school. Kids on sleds, kids inside, kids bundled up and toddling and walking through parking lots in bright jackets and playful hats. The sky white-gray and bottomless.
Ronan slept through most of the night, but I was up at five o’clock, creeping into the nursery to watch him in the dark. Listening. Every morning begins with a kind of detached longing, an already-missing-you ache, and I’m reminded of a passage from Marilynne Robinson’s glittering novel Gilead, and what the main character has to say about experience and interpretation, about the human need to define moments in retrospect. Our minds recombine this or that moment and add a gloss that may enable us (we think) to bear it. Maybe. Or maybe this vision calls up an old, impossible feeling we thought we’d forgotten. Maybe both. “Hope springs eternal,” as the tired saying goes, and so does grief. But then again, a morning full of anguish might be remembered differently, years later, as just another calm, cold morning. I remember when I watched him sleeping.
In the passage below, the main character in Robinson’s novel ( who is writing a long letter of farewell to his child), is “speaking of visions.” He combs through the memories and records them as a warning, I think, to his son, that all is not always as it should be, and that all is not remembered as it was. His son is still a young boy at this stage, and the narrator seems desparate to relate these adult truths in a way that is both soft and certain and avoids all platitudes.
I find this passage weirdly comforting, and Robinson’s writing as insightful, profound, and to-the-bone as ever. As a warning about the sheer hell of losing a child, a friend of mine warned me about grief: “the only way out of it is through it.” So through it we go, clawing and stumbling and sitting, remembering and forgetting, sorting and sifting, raging and softening. A kind of hell, yes. A kind of vision also.
“Strange are the uses of adversity.” That’s a fact. When I’m up here in my study with the radio on and some old book in my hands and it’s nighttime and the wind blows and the house creaks, I forget where I am, and it’s as though I’m back in hard times for a minute or two, and there’s a sweetness in the experience which I don’t understand. But that only enhances the value of it. My point here is that you never do know the actual nature of your own experience. Or perhaps it has no fixed and certain nature. I remember my father down on his heels in the rain, water dripping from his hat, feeding me biscuit from his scorched hand, with that old blackened wreck of a church behind him and steam rising where the rain fell on embers, the rain falling in gusts and the women singing “The Old Rugged Cross” while they saw to things, moving so gently, as if they were dancing to the hymn, almost. In those days no grown woman ever let herself be seen with her hair undone, but that day even the grand old women had their hair falling down their backs like schoolgirls. It was so joyful and sad. I mention it again because it seems to me much of my life was comprehended in that moment. Grief itself has often returned me to taht morning, when I took communion from my father’s hand. I remember it as communion, and I beleive that’s what it was.”