I remember the last time of grief in my life. Was it worse then? 2002. I didn’t have much work, and I lived alone in a tiny studio outside NYC, and there was nothing to do to escape it. It was like being run down by a tank. And then getting up a better person, because the relationship I’d lost hadn’t been good for me, and letting go made more room for love.
Today I missed Don with a sudden acute sadness–having an interaction with someone and remembering how though I had paranoia when I collaborated with Don, occasionally, mind you, then realizing that it was, after all, Don. I mean, we had some power struggles we didn’t talk through. Neither of us was anywhere near perfect, and sharing control is always hard when it’s not totally wonderful, which it was a lot of the time. Mostly, there was kindness and today I remembered how he talked to me when we were disagreeing and how I never felt less as a person when we disagreed. That’s not my usual experience. And not my experience today. Usually someone says something–it could be me, it could be the other person–and it’s off to the races with blame. How we human beings hate to feel uncomfortable. How we seem to be wired to think it’s something, anything, but what’s inside ourselves. And maybe Don and I would have gotten to that place, but in seven years of knowing him, I think he said one judgmental thing to me. And I think I said one judgmental thing back. It was so rare, that kind of track record. It meant so much to me. I knew he trusted my goodness, and I certainly trusted his, which made me better as a person. If someone trusts me, I feel I have to live up to that trust…with Don, it would have been like breaking a promise to a loved child, watching his face crumple…I have never, ever been able to stand to seeing innocence hurt.
So I miss Don. I miss sinking into that feeling of safety he seemed to provide for me. I wish I had been able to tell him this. Not just that I loved him, but how much, how rare and precious it was for me to have these very unfamiliar feelings of unguarded vulnerability. Nothing but honesty would do with him, and I loved that.
Here is what grief is: crying in public places, mostly the gym, or CVS, or my car. It is also this incredible forgetfulness, and inability to sleep through the night. How hard decisions seem. But also how I want to do something I love, how I want to give myself some life while I can. Because it was frankly terrifying to watch him get ripped out of this world with no warning, in this utter meaninglessness, no reason, all kinds of error, nothing to make sense of in any way…and to know this will happen to me, too, and to everyone I’ve ever loved.
In the middle of this, I have remembered how much I love poetry. The terror in Sharon Olds, the grief in Mary Oliver, the wisdom and pageantry of Galway Kinnell. And I have this strange clarity of vision. My partner started to have conflict with a friend, and they exchanged words, and then some nasty emails (why email? the worst choice for communication about the very personal), and here I am, the queen of reactivity, telling my partner to identify her part in it and take care of that and only that. Clean your side of the street, I’m telling her. Forget about the other side altogether. I know how hard it is to do that when you’re triggered and upset, how you want to defend, explain, how you want the other person to change, how vulnerable it feels, how dangerous, even, to say, yes, I hurt you, I’m sorry, all the while in your head saying, and you hurt me, too, and worse, and your behavior was worse than mine, and you don’t understand, etc, etc. I said to my partner, At some point we just have to listen to each other in spite of all the unskillful communication. We have to know the other person is frightened and hurt.
Of course, do I listen to my partner this way?
I plead the 5th on that one.
I mean, have I turned into the Buddha?
Or, more likely, a Jesus Christ wannabe?
I wrote the character of Jesus into my latest play, and he says, at one point, “To be divine, you need to forgive them while they’re hurting you.”
I don’t think we’re made that way.
But you know, I forgave Don. It was easy. When he hurt me, he knew it, and he said something. And I didn’t forget who he was when he hurt me. That is the temptation, to throw all we know away, and to see only the person in the moment of unskillful behavior.
I wish I could grow up and forgive as I’m being hurt. But right now, the best I can do is to know that whatever is hurting me is something I’ve done to someone, at some time, because the list of my unskillful behavior in my 20’s alone is truly astounding.
I can also miss Don. Who was overweight, who spilled his food, whose car was a mess, who stayed up all night gaming, and who never spoke to me with anything less than the belief that I was a good person. Which I am. I miss that he never forgot to see that.
I would like to take what he gave me and give that to the world. Seeing the good–not fantasy, not illusion–but the true good in who a person really is.
If you’re scared, it’s hard to do this. Think how scared so many of us are so much of the time.
Metta for all people. May we be well, may we be happy, may we be safe and protected, may we be at peace with what is.
That goes for you, too, Don. Wherever you are, I am sending metta to you, with my whole heart.