Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sitting with Grief

If life teaches us anything useful, it’s that pain happens and keeps happening. The disappointments of longtime love going cold, love dying in the bud, the heartaches of parting from longtime friends, watching parents lose their strength, loved ones fall ill—these are pains that accumulate as life goes on. They will continue accumulating and accelerating relentlessly until the very last breaths we breathe.

If life teaches us anything, it’s that a good attitude in the midst of grief is what makes the difference between subsisting and really living—and that no one should have to keep up a good attitude all the time.

It takes physical strength to survive heartache. When the metaphoric blows rain down on me, I bring the karate analogy into play. I go to the gym and build up my shoulders and arms, because rapid-fire misery is exactly like kumite, free fighting in karate. Your opponent is kicking and hitting at you, and you have to block the kicks with strong blocks, you have to block the hand strikes with fast blocks, and you have to strike back wherever the opportunity appears. It all happens very fast, and your arms absorb a lot of hits. You’ve got to have strong arms, padded with lots of good muscle. Your stomach and back have to be strong to keep you upright, to keep you from straining or exposing some part that should be covered.

So I go to the gym and build up my back, stomach and arms, so I can endure, and still snatch opportunities when they arise.

And when the waters of grief rise, I sit still and listen to them lapping around me, wondering what permanent erosion they might be causing. Today, as always, they whisper, wait, you know this; wait, your imagination fails you; wait, you’ll outlive this.

I’m impatient for better. I want it yesterday, all of it. The job, the lover, the house with the garden, the happy parents, the old, trusted friend, the pain to stop. But I’m up to my ass in grief and I will wait.

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