Today, it’s still winter, although on Sunday it was warm enough to feel like the tail end of an Alpine summer. Other Em and I went for a hike (in tank tops! but only briefly…) somewhere along Bishop’s Lodge Road, navigating our way up the path through alternating snow patches, sticky mud, and strips of ice. She’d hold out a hand, and then I would, and slowly we made it up the trail and back down over the course of several hours. (Of course we did not get lost; this is Em’s second trip to Santa Fe in three months and I found myself asking her for directions several times.) At the end of the hike she found me a short stick that I could use if I bent over slightly, which made me hope that I’d still be doing things like this, with Em, when I actually needed a cane (in addition to my bionic leg? The cane is a simple but very useful invention!) My hiking boots leaked. There was no wind. A jet plume arched its way across the sky. A dog ran up and down the trail, panting, its owner calling out as if speaking to a sulky teenager: come back here this minute. We smoked a cigarette, heard the spring’s first bee (or the winter’s last), talked about Ronan, walked in silence.
Today after Other Em left I found myself in a blaze of sadness. Jane Kenyon in the poem, “Heavy Summer Rain” says, I miss you steadily, painfully. I miss Em’s presence and optimism, her ecumenical (in the truest sense) approach to the world, her questions, her ability to be a witness, the energy of our friendship. I started a blog post and couldn’t finish it. I talked to a woman whose son died ten years ago — yet another mom I’ll meet at the Tay-Sachs convention in Boston in March. I cried, I fed Ronan. I watched a bad television show about a woman who gets locked up for kidnapping after her son dies of leukemia as a toddler and she steals the neighbor’s kid and I worried that in the not-so-distant future I’d become a nutter who tries to steal a baby from somebody’s grocery basket at Whole Foods. I used the new exercise machine. I picked up toys. I talked with a Danish healer via Skype (here’s to 21st century healing!), took a desperate nap, tried to read a book about the Buddhist approach to life and death and then switched to a novel, talked with three doctors and emailed one, called the Zen center about their “being with dying” program and as the sun was setting Rick and I walked to the coffee shop for hot chocolate, watching the sky shift to that impossible deep blue (is that why blue corn enchiladas were invented in Santa Fe? Surely not, but one wonders.) I remembered the monsoons we experienced every afternoon this July when we first moved in: Biblical, ground-running rains erupting out of stillness. Water spiking across the skylight. Lightning twisting silently in the sky and then the whole house trembling with thunder and Ronan snoring through it.
Last night while Em was feeding Ronan we talked about creation myths: the flood stories, Gilgamesh, all these stories that are rehashed again and again in literature, in pulpits, in our minds, with our friends; we all want to understand what we’re doing here; we’re all trying to build our private (and public) myths of being in the world and then find a way to fit comfortably inside them. We search for meaning in tragedy, wait for life to follow destruction, hope to see people again, soon, often, tomorrow. And then, sometimes, just sadness – a pure feeling that spreads and soars and is not without happiness; otherwise, what would you be missing? What would be the source of the ache?
I wish I could lie awake in bed and want for nothing, reach out for no one. Be, as Kenyon says in another poem, “benign.” I don’t want to know what comes next. I’m weary of anticipating loss. Loving and losing both seem too exhausting. I would like everything to stop or be easier or just be over. Something. And yet the evening is calm, the air just outside our front door is smoke-filled and deep black, the dishes are clean and the bottles are washed and my friend is sailing airborne somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean; tomorrow she will meet her children at school. I’ve walked them to their school before, and tomorrow morning (their afternoon), I will picture them running across the playground to greet her.
A final word from Kenyon, my melancholy muse:
And I knew them
that I would have to live, and go on
living: what a sorrow it was; and still
what sorrow burns
but does not destroy my heart.
–From “Evening Sun”