Sunday, February 26, 2006

Things I Am Afraid Of

So a couple of things have occurred to me since my last post.
  1. If lack of money = death, then a budget is constant lack of money. I mean, if you have $500 to buy groceries, then you have to stop buying them when the $500 is gone. You RUN OUT of the $500 and this means you lack money and this, in my very sick logic, means death.

  2. I’m not actually afraid of death.

Sooooo, what does all THAT mean? What the hell am I afraid of? Pain. Definitely pain. Though I did pretty well in the childbirth department. Can’t say it was enjoyable, but I didn’t beg for drugs. So it’s not even pain I’m afraid of.
Cruelty. I am afraid of cruelty and cruel people. That’s why I don’t watch horror films, nor do I want anyone to describe them to me. Someone once told me about a scene from Hannibal and I couldn’t sleep after that. And I do find suicide to be cruel. It’s like, “Watch me take myself out and you can’t do anything about it, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa.” It’s the ultimate “fuck you.” That’s why it pisses me off.

Okay, so where am I going with this? I’m not afraid of death because I don’t believe there is any. I mean, there’s a transition from this life to the next one and you do leave your body behind, but I don’t believe we cease to exist. If I did believe that, I might find it frightening. I’m not sure. But I don’t have anything but curiosity about my own transition to the next life. I expect to be in a fierce and loving presence. I expect it to be exciting. But I’m not afraid about that. I have a feeling of trust about it even if I’m not sure how all the logistics work.

So. I am afraid of lovelessness. I told my husband I was feeling a little haunted lately and that when he’s depressed I’m anxious. He said, “You know, I may get depressed, but I’m not your dad. I’d never kill myself.” And I said, “I know.” But I was crying.
I never thought I was afraid of that. But I was filled with a ridiculous sense of relief.

The frightening thing about cruelty and about suicide is its seeming coldness. What has happened to the person who will do violence to himself and others? That’s what frightens me – that thing, whatever it is, that separates a person from his god-ness.
But is it coldness, really? Or is it heat, rage, a howl of despair? Is it actually love?

When child #2 was a baby, we went on a camping trip with Dad. He and I got into a discussion on abortion, which he is against – or so he says. My friend Annie had a Down Syndrome son. I mentioned him and said, “Those are the kids people say should be aborted. “They should be,” said Dad.

There are days I find his cruelty stunning, and this was one of them. We got into an argument as soon as my husband joined in. Dad was against retarded people, black people, gay people. I can’t remember the whole list, but he said he was sick of my husband’s sanctimonious crap. Whereupon, my husband told Dad we weren’t raising our children with Dad’s kind of values and that Dad needed to read the Bible and get to know God. (This is a rather atypical statement for my husband, but he was ticked.) Needless to say, this did not produce a sunlight-from-heaven kind of moment. Instead Dad walked out of the campsite and said he was going to hitchhike the 100 or so miles home.

Child #1 was two at the time. Dad had tied a string to a little wooden boat of hers and she was pulling it along in the dirt. She looked after him with these big, green eyes and said forlornly, “Where’d Granddaddy go?”

I chased him down with the station wagon. I rolled down the window and said, “Get in the car.”
He said, “I don’t have to take that.”
I said, “You’ve walked out on me for the last time. GET IN THE CAR.”
He said, “Oh, well in that case…” He got in the car.
I told him, “Every time things don’t go your way, you leave. You’ve been leaving me since I was born. And when you don’t get what you want, you threaten to leave permanently.”
He said, “You don’t understand the mind of a suicide.”

And now, I almost do. A year or two later, I was in a job that was taking everything I had, chewing it up and spitting it out. I felt like a failure in my chosen profession (teaching), and my children were with babysitters all day, missing me. My daughter would play with her dolls and the dolls would say that the mommy was dead. And for the first time, I wanted to. For the first time I thought, “This is how people feel who want to kill themselves.” I didn’t have a plan. I wasn’t longing to pull the trigger. But for the first time, I understood what it was to have all my hope drained away, as if some vampire had come in the night and sucked me dry. That’s what my dad felt, I think. He couldn’t have known how valuable he was to me. He couldn’t see it himself.

So it isn’t even cruelty I fear, because Dad isn’t really cruel – not when he stops and thinks about individuals. His cruelty is just a forgetting. Anyone’s is. And suicide is not coldness, but a void, an ache, a temporary seduction by hopelessness. It’s just that something irrevocable can happen in that moment of despair.

And then you miss that person. You miss them like I miss my grandmother, who didn’t kill herself, but died in her 80’s of pneumonia after a series of strokes. I miss her because we didn’t get to finish being together. I didn’t get to see her off. I got busy with my life and hid from her illness instead of flying out to see her. I’ve no doubt I’ll see her in the next life; I even talk to her sometimes now. But death changes everything you thought was permanent.

So it’s separation I fear. I love the physical you-are-here-now-I-can-hold-you world. And while I don’t believe we really die, I can’t get my mind around the reality that is beyond these three (four) dimensions.

I’m beginning to when I kiss the icons every day. Those people have become real to me in their own way: St. Brigid of Kildare, St. Katherine the Greatmartyr, St. Andrew, St. John the Baptist, Mary, Jesus. I love their faces looking at me while I pray. And even though it’s only wood and paint, it reminds me that the people I love are with me in this extra-dimensional reality. The string theorists say there are 12 dimensions (or is it 11? 13? A bunch, anyway). I find that incredibly inspiring. All these dimensions we can’t see. If “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” as Jesus said, it’s a close as your hand.

The night I decided to convert to Orthodoxy, I didn’t decide. I blurted it out to my husband in a restaurant line, “Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll convert.”
I spent the meal reassuring him that I was not doing this for him, even though I knew it gave him joy, but for me. But I still couldn’t believe I’d said that.

That night I went down to the river and clung to a tree. I looked across the river at the moon and I talked to my grandmother. “Should I do this? Am I crazy? Another church? I was through with churches. What if they try to own me? Tell me how to think? What if I can’t squeeze myself into a box that small? Am I climbing into a box or can my God stay big and full of wonder? Should I really do this? Should I?”
And the answer came back across the river and in the bark of the tree, “It’s all right. You’ll be all right. You don’t need to be afraid. It’s bigger than you think; it’s bigger than they think. Don’t worry. Don’t worry.”

It was so good to hear from her.

We think we are alone. We think we are separated. But we’re not. The air is full of souls calling out their love to us. They loved imperfectly, perhaps, on earth, but love they did and love they do. I think I am afraid of hopelessness, of cruelty, of despair. But love is stronger, love is stronger, love is stronger.

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