Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sentiments about Sentiments

Yesterday would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. She was an especially sentimental soul and always remembered important dates in her life (especially losses) with melancholy nostalgia. I often thought she was way too wistful. Now I have a somewhat more tolerant perspective.

I reconnected with a childhood friend yesterday. He used to live across the street from me. I became a member of Facebook a few weeks ago – surprising even myself along with the younger members of my family. I don’t know if it’s a function of my age and/or my situation as a new widower, but I’m feeling a strong urge to reconnect with my past. Facebook is helping to satisfy the yen (although it’s only as good as the impulses of my peers to join as I did).

This childhood friend and I were very close through our elementary years but had drifted apart before we graduated from high school. Never-the-less, the shared memories haven’t lost their importance. Most of them are of us as typical neighborhood playmates. But one is seared in my memory and came roaring back as I recalled those childhood years. When I was about 6 or 7 and my friend was about 5 or 6, his little brother was hit and killed by a car – right in front of my house. I have a horrible image in my head of their mother standing at the scene of the accident in hysterics, and watching helplessly as the fatally injured toddler lay on the street next to his mangled tricycle. I didn’t know how to process that at the time. And all of a sudden, I have a new perspective for her grief and what she must have experienced in dealing with such a tragic and sudden loss. My loss pales in comparison and yet I feel like a member of a very unique club whose members have had very unique experiences and to which none of us really wishes to belong.

As my family and I were sharing emailed thoughts about my mother, we agreed that our loved ones – even our children, are only on loan to us from God. In addition, my brother offered up a passage written by Khalil Gibran. It includes these lines: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” It’s a very similar sentiment to what I mentioned in the last post – the more loss we feel, the more it means that we had something worth grieving for. And it was never mine to begin with.

My friend Peg suggests that I am defrosting from the numbness that has protected me up to now – which I no longer need – and that my pain is therefore more noticeable as I continue to heal. My friend Alan, having himself traveled this road, says the same thing using “the Novocain is wearing off after a dental visit” analogy. The comparisons are accurate and they both frame the situation in terms that promise the pain will ease.

Tomorrow would have been our 31st wedding anniversary. I’m feeling a little wistful about that - with no remorse. And I’m glad that my mother showed me how.