Love may seem like the wrong word for embracing the natural tendency to disintegrate. But I think of the way bones are constantly reshaping themselves in a living body, calcium depositing in stalactite ridges—but also dissolving, rebuilding, becoming something else.Three weeks ago, my eleven-year-old son jumped too hard down a hill and did temporary damage to the growth plate in one leg. I didn’t know about growth plates before I saw his X-rays—but there they were, ghostly lumps of soft tissue at the top and bottom of his femur. “Bone-building factories,” his orthopedist said, but they looked more like shadowy possibilities to me, as if growth and destruction could overlap each other at the same moment. As if I’d been offered a rare glimpse into the future.
He ended that day on crutches, sternly instructed to keep all weight off that leg and hip. The adventure quickly soured. As my fierce, jittery boy struggled to hold back tears, I held back my own ticking sense of life’s unfairness.
At the close of every year, entropy is always in the emotional background for me. Its dark shimmer feels more obvious as I grow older. Gathered with my family around the Christmas tree, I know the pretty gifts will all be opened in minutes, the wrapping shredded; the brown needles will fall; the much-loved ornaments will soon be stored away.
Last year, my husband set up his camera to take a time-lapse video of us decorating the tree, which, when replayed, condensed everything into a speedy couple of minutes. It’s fun to watch a time or two. But then that shimmer kicks in for the adults in the room, that sense that everything happens too fast.
My mother died in January, and since then, I’ve often felt like somebody strapped to the mast of a ship in a storm. Oh, I have been angry—as enraged as huge waves busting apart the timbers. I’ve tumbled into the slough of despond, lost myself in numbed sleep full fathom five, amid useless pearls and sand.
I’ve been all the things that psychologists dictate—a cursing monster chipping ice off my windshield, a sopping rag of tears on my husband’s shoulder—and I’ll continue to feel those things, but in no neat order, even if I could speed up the camera. Entropy isn’t neat.
I hate you, Life, with your sneaky promises that never last, the constant rug pulls, you thug, you demon, you goddamn faceless void. You EMPTINESS.
But here is where the love comes in, too, a hard love that’s stuck by me. After I’ve cried and sleepwalked through another work day, the meaninglessness can be a relief. I do what I can, but in the end, I can’t change a thing. I can only love and rage. I can love, terrified as I may be to expose what I feel, and that love will constantly rebuild and reshape itself.
I love you, Life, with your sneaky promises that never last, the constant rug pulls, you thug, you demon, you faceless sweetness. You bright fire.
Last Christmas, I saw my mother smiling, as she struggled to thank me for her gifts and to tell her grandson she loved him. In less than a month, she was gone, and during her final week of life, when she couldn’t speak, I envisioned her molecules scattering like tiny mica flecks of light, blending into everything else.
Last week, I felt as if the inside of my skull were furred with the color of a morning glory: dark blue, midnight blue, the middle of a bruise.
Last week, whenever I tried to read in the afternoon, I would drift into sleep. I grabbed for that oblivion; I longed to blank out all feeling. And yet, I kept waking up, and something else would go wrong—I’d get into a fender bender, my car door banged in—then something else would go shockingly right—the driver of the other car accepting full responsibility, a blow for ethics in a corrupt world.
My son would get the doctor’s nod to abandon his crutches. He’d decide to cut off his beautiful long hair and look so different. He’d look so new.
Things fall apart. Things fall apart. But so what? The top of the sky is blue. Glorious mourning blue.
Today, I’ve started reading the poet Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss, his 2012 “Meditation of a Modern Believer.” Much of this dark year, I’ve hesitated to begin his bracing take on the creative impulse, faith, and mortality. But now, every line of it speaks to me. Wiman evokes a kind of radical entropy, too—or a need to accept its shimmering, unexpected gifts. As he writes in the following passage:
Our minds are constantly trying to bring God down to our level rather than letting him lift us into levels of which we were not previously capable. This is as true in life as it is in art. Thus we love within the lines that experience has drawn for us, we create out of impulses that are familiar and, if we were honest with ourselves, exhausted. What might it mean to be drawn into meanings that, in some profound and necessary sense, shatter us? This is what it means to love.