I am here alone for the first time in weeks to take up my ‘real’ life again at last. That is what is strange—that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life, unless there is time alone in which to explore what is happening or what has happened….I hope to break through into the rough, rocky depths, to the matrix itself. There is violence there and anger never resolved. My need to be alone is balanced against my fear of what will happen when suddenly I enter the huge empty silence if I cannot find support there….Outside it is a milky world, snow driving past the windows incessantly in horizontal waves. Drifts pile up under the high wind. But I find I am truly in Heaven. There are charming ‘February’ daffodils out in a pale green pot on my desk, tulips on the mantel, a subtle apricot color veined in yellow with dark purple hearts. I have lighted a fire in here because the wind creeps in and I feel a chill. I have Beethoven sonatas (Pastoral and Les Adieux) on the record player. And now to work! – May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude
As Joshua’s words come echoing across the water and down the years to me, I can’t help thinking that his life was not just his finest thoughts about poetry and friendship, expressed in a style that rejected forcefulness in favor of sympathy, but it was also comprised of his long mornings in his dressing gown with his telephone, newspapers, the Hu Kwa smoked tea and the little sterling-silver strainer that sat in its drip cup when it wasn’t straddled across a cup catching leaves. His life was made up of his pleasure in the morning glories as well as his hilarity ….After [his death] I looked through all the letters I’d ever received from Joshua and I realized I’d been unworthy of him then, that he’d been sending them through time to me as I would become years later. –Edmund White, The Farewell Symphony
Maybe it’s this unyielding time of year, but lately there’s just been so much death all around me. Rather than feeling shocked by these losses, I have begun to accept them as commonplace, albeit painfully so. Herein lies what Jane Smiley once termed the Age of Grief. That point in our lives when those who served as our grownups begin to sicken and fade, leaving us to step into their shoes. When we lose the only ones who remember us as little and effortlessly dear, the only ones who forgive us our sins as youthful folly–who regard us with the hope and fear and involuntary affection with which every generation regards the next. I suspect most of what these people taught me I only roughly comprehend now. And I hope fervently that someday I, like White, will become the person whom their best selves were already addressing.
4/28/16 Note: I wrote this post more than eight years ago, when almost all the people I’d lost had been members of the preceding generation. Since then, I have lost so many peers: dear friends and lovers, estimable colleagues, cultural heroes, even frenemies whom I didn’t know I cherished until they were gone. The sting is just as strong if very different. Closer to home, closer to the fabric of daily life–closer, period. The rebels who shared your causes, the horizontal (not vertical) allies, the casual companionship and shorthand, the luxury of taking each other for granted, the shared delusions of immortality and shared firsts, the bodies, the bodies you shared: These losses are so core. I am saddened to recognize that this White passage resonates on new levels but even more awed by what he captured.