She sat and sat and sat, silent to the point of aphasia — not so much that she couldn’t speak, more that she was so deep down the well of her own recollections that she simply could not muster the necessary words to make anything that might be coherent … no, not even that. She simply couldn’t muster words at all. Something like writer’s block, perhaps, with so many thoughts coming thick and fast, a tidal wave of thought, a tsunami of thought, undifferentiated thought, the aphasia of a newborn, so much information that nothing could escape the event horizon, the undertow of the tsunami dragging her down, down, down by the hair, down, but not drowning. Writer’s block: not an absence of thought, not a blank, but a fullness, a fullness so profound that it defies verbal expression.
Maybe she should take up painting instead, or pottery, something non-verbal. If painting, then not actually learning how to draw tidy portraits or still lifes (lives? I never know) (and this has always fascinated me: in French it’s not still “life,” it’s “nature morte” — literally, “dead nature,” neatly sidestepping the oxymoron of the English “still”).
Not learning how to draw then, not even attempting the grand landscape or even the stylized tulip, but something bold and abstract and wild, like Jackson Pollock, the picture in her head being the iconic shot of Pollock standing in the middle of the studio, wood floors, high ceilings, splattered with paint everywhere. She was beginning to understand the wordless cry of those giant canvases, the Pollocks and the Rothkos, the Barnett Newman Voice of Fire that caused such an shitstorm when it was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in 1989 for $1.8 million. Truth be told, even in 1989 when she finally stood in front of that painting, she did get it, even then, that the point was not that any idiot could take two cans of paint and a ruler and make stripes on a giant canvas, the point was to stand in front of it and take it in, without the need to assign meaning to the stripes, just take it in, stand there, be overtaken by the emotion of it, swept away by the sheer size without a need to analyze everything for godssake. Only something that massive could hope to contain her thinking now.
And yet, words were her constant companion, lifelong, undeniable, irrepressible, part of who she was. Even body sensations seemed to be filtered first through words. People told her that was not possible — and on some level she could hardly disagree — but that was how it seemed to her, that the words came before the sensations.
And so she sat (and sat and sat and sat), bereft because she could not speak in words, could not name anything, so overwhelming was the well of thought.
Yet still, maybe just maybe she could reach in, reach down her throat to the raw heart of the matter, pull up a word, a single word even, anything to get things started, just one word, still warm and pulsing from the very very very bottom of that well.
Yes, there it was: grief.
Grief no less dark for being anticipatory and diffuse, no less piercing for all that.
Grief in huge waves, sadness coming upon her at the most unexpected and I might add inconvenient times, sadness at a life not yet complete and yet singularly unlived, doomed to be incomplete not only in the ordinary way of all of us, with things left undone, words left unsaid, the certain knowledge of taking certain secrets to the grave. Not just that.
Incomplete also in the sense of never having truly lived, in the sense of feeling one has lived for others and now outlived one’s usefulness, of having spent so many years waiting for happiness to establish itself fully and finally, waiting for things to be perfect, never realizing that’s not the way it works. Creating a trap of one’s own design, a trap so tight there’s no way out, even though there’s a door, right there, and it’s even OPEN. There’s even a light shining through the opening — not the white light of dying, but actual light as in “enlightenment” — enlightenment as in becoming lighter, becoming full of light, weighing less, shining more, all of that.
It doesn’t even take a leap of faith, not a leap of any kind, actually, to see it. All it takes is a tiny, the tiniest, shift in perspective. Maybe just seeing a glimmer, off in the periphery, just enough to get the attention moving in that direction, a soft turn of the lens, bringing something a little different into focus. Focusing on the light instead of down the rabbit hole of raw need, of the bitterness of unfulfilled desire, thwarted hopes, a world that doesn’t conform to the way things should be, ever. Focusing on turning attention to living the same life exactly as it is now, with all the sorrow and pain, unchanged yet somehow managing it with a sense of peace instead of suffering, endlessly railing against what is, all hills are the hill to die on. Why is equanimity so impossible?
If only there were a magic keystone word that would crumble all the rigid structures of that mind, and let in the light. A magic word to show the way to softening, gentling, the way to gratitude and freedom. How might one live with the pain and sorrow and still be grateful for each breath?
For all this she grieved, soundlessly: for the tragedy itself and for her own lack, the lack of magic words.
For all this she grieves.