Friday, January 20, 2012

The College of Hard Knocks

“…A permanent lesson was etched into my mind when I first moved there, in January, 2000, and was riding back from a motorcycle journey to Death Valley. Winding down through Malibu Canyon, framed in rocky walls and chaparral green after the winter rains, the Pacific glittered before me, and I thought, ‘It’s the last day of January. I’m on my motorcycle. And I live here.’ ” – Neil Peart

“Home is where the heart is,” Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder)

I said I would tell you what Pittsburgh has taught me.  As I considered what that is exactly, I realized that I have indeed learned a lot over the last year, but it wasn't really the city that taught it to me.  It was just time and experience.  Life was the teacher, it turns out, Pittsburgh was just the campus.

I have a vision - an admittedly vain vision - that someday someone deep in the throes of grief will stumble upon this blog and take some comfort from it.  It's vanity because who am I to think I really have anything insightful to offer anyone else?  And haven't I said over and over that grief is a very individual journey?  Besides, I have days still where I can barely get by, I get so bogged down in my loss, and on those days I think it is the height of hypocrisy to think I can steer anyone else through anything.  But, still I have this wish that someone will read through the steps and the progressions I have taken and gather something up that can help them.  It is for that person that I write this really.

There were those who were bold enough to tell me moving was tantamount to running away, and that it is impossible to run away from your sorrows.  Others probably thought it.  I denied vehemently that we were running away from our pain, and that was sincere; I knew we would bring it with us.  And we have.  But I confess I did initially wonder when I would return to feeling "normal" and thought moving here would hasten that.  After a year here, I am struck by the realization that there is no finite definition of "normal" and what I really wanted to know is when would I feel the way I used to?  And the answer to that question is never.  So, the way I feel now may be my new "normal".  Maybe just the current "normal", to be replaced by some other state of being later.  How I feel now is a bit hard to explain, but here goes:  like there is a constant weight inside me.    Not on my shoulders because one can peel that off with some effort, but deep inside like a tumor.  It is ever-present.  There are moments when I find that I am not thinking about it:  during the frenzied pace of a hockey game when the only thought is to follow the course of the puck, or during a quiet moment at the zoo when one of the kangaroos comes up to greet me and we share a moment of connection that is only between us.  But, those moments are just that: momentary.  The challenge therefore is to accept that state of being.  Accept the loss, the depth of the loss, and the fact that it will never be made whole. Then learn to live with it because that is the only choice there is.  Take it and do something noble with it if you have the strength to do it, move across the country, maybe just across town, or remodel the house you live in if it helps, but the loss is now a part of you for the balance of your days no matter what you do.

Now, know that is okay.  I don't want my sorrow to define me, but neither do I want to fail to heed the lessons I should take from it.  I will love my daughter always.  It is a thing that is in the present tense.  The love lives on even though she does not.  I do not want her to fade from me.  Perhaps not least of all, feeling something, even if it is bad, is better, I have come to believe, than feeling nothing at all.

Maybe what Pittsburgh has taught me is how to have a measure of fun again, and a little bit of joy here and there.  I was so struck recently when I read Neil Peart's blog and read his statement about driving along a winding California road and the sensation hitting him that "..I live here."  As I read it, snow swirled outside my window.  In many ways, our idea of the ideal environment is worlds apart, but I knew just what he meant by that comment.  So many times I have been driving into town and see the skyline opening up before me and think, "Wow, this is my home now."  Or sitting inside a chilly arena looking down on Evgeni Malkin and thinking, "Wow, he plays for my home team."  Or watching Marc Andre Fleury make an incredible save and being able to say, "Glad he's my goalie."  And don't even get me started about the wonder of being a member of the home crowd at a Steelers game.  Pittsburgh didn't teach me that, but it has given me that.

Sometimes I feel guilty about those moments.  Do I really deserve to live in this city?  That's a tougher nut to crack, and more time will need to pass before I can justify that one to you.   But, for now I think I remain on earth for a purpose.  To shut out the experience of life would be to miss somewhere along the way what that purpose is.  If you are reading this and think that laughter or any measure of happiness in light of your loss is a sin, I understand why you say that.  I have so often felt that exact same way.  But, here you are.  Nothing will bring your loved one back.  So, decide to live.  Celebrate the time you had with your loved one.  Keep him or her close to your heart, but do not allow that heart to become frozen.

As I write, a soft layer of snow has descended on the landscape outside my window.  My dogs lay contented at my feet.  The house is quiet.  Tonight there is hockey.  Wow, I live here.

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