May 12, 2008

the rust and the rain endure

Because Joan Didion says so early on in this memoir that one cannot know grief until one is inside it, I feel like this book is for members of a club to which I do not belong. I have grieved certain definite losses - beloved relatives, people I knew from a considerable distance whom I would like to have known better; animal family members who were more human than some people I walk amongst daily. However, I have not experienced the loss of anyone I am intimately close to. Because my family is healthy and I am approaching marriage, I'm stepping into joy, not grief, and I feel almost not in the right place - "yet" - to read this book. However, I cannot stop.

One thing Didion urgently wants you to know is that your family may be healthy, and you may be stepping into the greatest joy you can imagine, but it can all be taken away from you in a heartbeat (or, as she reconsiders, "the lack thereof.") Where I am in the book, this is not a Buddhist-type understanding on her part. She's calm, but not at peace with anything. In fact, she half thinks he might not even be gone, really - and she hangs onto his clothes so that he'll have something to wear if - when - he returns.

Last night I tried to explain this thinking to Scott. "She's not deluded," I said.

"Um ..." he replied.

"Well, no, I guess you'd have to call it a delusion. But what I mean is she just wasn't ready. They really depended on each other, all their married life. So she wasn't ready. But she's not crazy."

And Scott carefully answered, "She sounds crazy." (Very carefully, because of part of an argument we'd had - or maybe it was more like I blew up at him for not regarding me with seriousness, pretty much ever. Stepping headlong into joy, did I mention?) But I couldn't blame him for not understanding the magical thinking - you can't, fully, unless you read the accompanying observations, the small comments, the snippets of Hopkins, all the little pieces that go along with this magical thinking that her love would never die - and should the unthinkable happen, that he would come back and would need a pair of shoes to wear when he did.

This is not so much a memoir about the writer John Dunne as it is a portrait of grief. For me it's also a reminder that as deep as a love can be, the vessel will not always be in your possession. Whichever of you leaves first, love with this knowledge in your heart and mind. I hope the bottom line is that it makes love more precious, not less worth the effort.

Because even before reading this book I have always been interested in the dynamics of marriage and (but separately) loss - another portrait of grief, love, and the beauty of life. Read the blog in its entirety - from heartbreak to peace and everything in between - it is worth every minute you'll spend.

On Love, In Sadness

Oh love, it's a brittle madness - I sing about it in all my sadness
It's not falsified to say that I've found God
Inevitably, well it still exists
So pale and fine I can't dismiss it
I won't resist - and if I die, well, at least I tried.

- Jason Mraz

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