I meet a lot of people in my line of work. The nature of childcare is of course that children have a habit of growing up, and even in my room, which covers nearly the first twelve blistering months of childhood, it seems that as soon as you and the brand-new human get used to each other’s presence, it’s time for them to move on to the next room and the next stage of life. After seven years I’ve learned not to get too attached, because it isn’t about me. These little wobbly-legged individuals likely won’t even remember my face past the one-year-old room, not unless their parents keep that memory alive as they pass by every morning and wave at me through the window. And I’m okay with that. Life isn’t a layover, it’s an odyssey; it’s constant motion, perpetual change, as we shed the parts of ourselves that somehow no longer exist. That’s the definition of growing up, and that’s what I deal with every day as an infant teacher, as my babies take on new challenges and leave behind the things that no longer serve them. I kiss and hug and send them on their way, because that’s what’s expected, that’s normal, and that’s how the whole world works.
Adults, however. . . I’m not so good at saying goodbye to them.
I’ve said goodbye to my fair share of adults, probably as many as I have children. And every time it happens, every damn time, I always catch myself thinking, this time, it’s going to be better. This is the one I’m going to get right.
Of course I’m always wrong, because it never gets easier. In fact it gets more difficult the more I have to endure, as I recognize in myself the patterns of guilt and avoidance that follow each and every one of these partings. Sometimes my reactions are self-inflicted: I can’t be hurt if I’m the one doing the hurting, can I? Part of this I think comes from experience, because like I’ve said, lately, goodbyes have become the default mode of my life. Why try to keep something alive when it’s clear the other party has no desire to uphold their end of the agreement? It’s destructive, and it’s counterproductive, but that doesn’t make it any less real. And every time it happens, I’m always struck by how callous my heart has become in the face of such repeated abuse, and how tender the wounds are still, even years after the fact.
I’ve kept busy these past three years.
I’ve written a novel I’m proud of, even if it’s not exactly finished. I have entered a level of craft that I never thought could be mine to achieve, and all I did was keep writing, keep reading, keep staring at the tiny letters on my laptop and giving myself eyestrain.
I have stubbornly clung to the one thing in my life I know for sure, that I love this, even when I hate it. I love the feeling of words in my head as they form themselves on the page, like clay on an armature, over the course of many drafts fashioning themselves into what they were always supposed to be.
I’ve said goodbye to more people than I thought would. It still hurts to think about them, and the rejection their silence signifies.
I’ve learned a thing or two about a thing or two. I feel knowledge–if not yet wisdom–simmering inside of me. I’ve taken up meditation, which the artwork at the top of the page is supposed to remind me to do, and it helps me see every ache and flaw and accept them for what they are.
And I’ve met people. Lots of people. But not enough. One thing’s for certain: it’s time for me to get a handle on this hello thing. Maybe hellos are the only way to counteract this many goodbyes. Maybe the secret to life is to fill it with so much you never miss the stuff that spills out over the top–or leaks out the bottom, corrosively, leaving holes that you struggle to patch.
I’ve spent the past four years trying to patch holes. Maybe, instead of focusing on what I’ve lost, it’s time to focus on what I’ve gained, which is every glorious and terrible moment of a life lived as honestly as I can, bravely, with little regret.
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?
–Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
Back in the thick of my deconversion, my husband and I watched Donnie Darko, one of my first rated-R movies and needless to say a truly transformative experience. As I huddled on the couch sobbing for the titular character–as well as for all the children dying of starvation and all the children who have ever died of starvation and of course maybe a little for myself–I tried to reconcile my sense of justice with a world where people do not have their every wish come true. What is the purpose of all this shit if we aren’t rewarded with bliss for all eternity?
My husband, who had already gone through this whole rigmarole–and by himself, for I was no help as he privately lost his faith–calmly assured me that I was being ridiculous. And I know that now, of course, but at the time it was truly a conundrum. Why do we put up with everything we put up with, if all we get are a few moments where things might not suck as much as usual–and that’s only if we’re lucky? It was possibly the biggest thing that held me back from accepting what part of me knew was true, this stubborn adhesion to a sense of Universal Fairness. And it’s still something that bothers me, though I have a lot more perspective now on why that is. At the time it served as veritable proof that there had to be a loving creator up there somewhere, invisibly working his magic on a special, chosen few. Now I know that the universe isn’t unjust, it’s just indifferent. Some questions don’t have answers, and some problems don’t have solutions, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Meaning is something that is ascribed, and human brains are oh-so-good at ascribing it to almost everything we come in contact with. And while that can lead us to believe in some very silly things, it also allows us to live in ways that, well, mean something.
The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.
–Stanley Kubrick, interviewed by Eric Nordern, Playboy (September 1968); later published in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews (2001)
I don’t mean for this blog to turn into some kind of atheist/humanist/heathen manifesto. Writing is and always will be the main focus of whatever I put here, but the fact that I’ve changed since its inception is unavoidable; any summary of the past few years of my life would be incomplete without it. Furthermore, having grown up with a Christian Fundamentalist perspective, this change affects and colors my everything. It’s probably why so many people I love want little to do with me, though most of that comes from having grown up in a high-control religion, with strict rules governing how ex-members should be treated. I knew and prepared myself for this, but then again nothing can prepare you for the ongoing loss of the living.
Still, I’m okay. I’m still writing and I’m still growing, and it turns out I have a lot to say. In the words of Shannon Hoon, of the wonderful 90’s band Blind Melon, I know we can’t all stay here forever, so I wanna write my words on the face of today (before they paint it).