Opposites

If you’re born into a world without a ready source of food, do you know that you’re hungry? Or is it that the gnaw in your belly just “is”? Do you have to know fullness in order to recognize starvation? I suspect that you can’t know one without knowing the other. The dynamics of experience are dynamics of contrast. We recognize what is opposite of something else and unless our environments are truly neutral and repetitive, we live by noting the dynamics between converse elements.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I read a lot about dialectics, mostly philosophical and mostly political. These days, I’m thinking primarily about the processes of life and what you can expect to learn when you engage in anything, love, work, social interactions. What is a likely result of participating in virtually anything is a heightened awareness of the wide range of feelings you can expect to experience as the pendulum of life swings along.

It is the evening before Thanksgiving day. All my contributions for tomorrow’s family dinner are made. I spent the night with my children and the newest generation, my grandchildren of blood and choice. We were enjoying ourselves. I was keenly aware, as always, of my husband’s physical absence, but it was my daughter who suddenly said, ” dad should be here, dad should be here.” Her face was sad and disappointed.

Both I and my beloved son from another mother simultaneously replied that he was here, would always be here with us. And that’s true in the sense that I always feel, that the power of what our love built is still alive and sustaining. Nevertheless, we’d all still like him here in the flesh, talking with us, hugging us and telling his old man jokes. Could any of us have anticipated the palpable absence of his person before he was really gone? I don’t think so. We all are figuring it out as we go along, and only the richness of what came before informs that vacant space we feel now. The price we pay for love is a given and is exacted by life. There are losses every step of your way through this world. Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, lovers and spouses. The horror for those who lose children. To experience life’s joys, you can expect life’s sorrows. You can opt out of it all, if you don’t want to be subject to the chaos of feeling. If you never have a pet, you never have to feel the pain of losing it. And so it goes, on and on. You take risks or you don’t.

As I ponder all this, I’m sitting with my mourning quilt on my lap. When Michael got his dire prognosis, he somehow had the presence of mind to realize how lonely and devastated I’d be after he was gone. So he set himself to the tasks of trying to leave me with tangible evidence of us that would remind me of what we had for a lifetime. This quilt is made from pieces of his clothing which he snuck out of the house to give to the person he commissioned to make it. Photos of our family and snippets of his passions and interests are screened on or sewn to it. Shirt pockets were stuffed with his business cards from all his jobs along with personal notes for me and our kids. We each got a pewter tag, seen below, to remind us of him. Mine is on my keychain and I carry his note in my purse.

He made me three CD’s, adding the artwork, which commemorated our love through music we’d shared. And he designed a piece of jewelry for me, inscribed in his own handwriting, a testimony to our forty five years together. Things are things are things, but now and again, they are so much more than that. I feel great solace from his efforts to provide sustenance for me in his absence. As years are going by, he remains with me in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.

My life is still a good life. I have love and friendship, health and wide-ranging interests. I can take care of myself in all ways and have my independence. What is opposite from my life with Michael is that he is no longer at the center of my daily existence. I’m continuing to adapt to that disparate feeling after leading the bulk of my life so differently. But I appreciate how lucky I’ve been to have experienced the richness of my primary relationship and the intimate bonded family we made. Everyone is not so lucky. Although I’m selfish enough to wish we could’ve died together after another 25 years, I’m unselfish enough to know that the world is filled with people who are in infinitely worse shape than me. That’s always been true and always will be. What I can say is that if you stay conscious about how life works and if you want to ease the future pain of your loved ones, you can do something about that, right here and right now. No one gets to protect anyone completely from what goes along with experiencing life’s highs and lows. But you can provide comfort that lasts forever. These are my late night thoughts before tomorrow’s Thanksgiving tradition, missing Michael, with Michael, harboring the opposite feelings inside me for what I imagine will be the rest of my life. The risks were worth it. No regrets.

A happy holiday to those who celebrate it. And who are trying their best in this world of conflicts.

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