On The Nature Of Tears

(There is a link at the bottom of this blog for a song called ‘On the Nature of Daylight’ by Max Richter. I paraphrased that title for the title of this post, and it is a perfect background music to read this by.)

As most of you know, this blog started out years ago as a way to engage my radiation-fried brain with words again. I thought if I wrote about writing, stories would come to rest on my shoulder, would begin to whisper to me.

So I started a blog about writing and those early posts were self-conscious and stilted. When I relaxed, words relaxed. When I just chatted about day to day things, friends settled around and joined their words to mine. When I told funny stories about my life, people came closer. I never paid attention to numbers of ‘likes’ or numbers of followers as that wasn’t what the blog was about. I chose to pay extra to keep the blog free of ads because it also wasn’t about making money.

It was about me, rebuilding a loving and respectful relationship with stories and with anyone who wanted to tell me a story.

But then I was hit hard, slammed into broadside, by loss and it came out in posts about grief. I didn’t mean it to be that way; I was just writing what had to come out.

Those posts, for some reason, resonated with people to the point where I was getting almost two hundred emails a day.

Today, I’m thinking about a recent loss of a friend and how the family is hurting and how this damn virus doesn’t allow us to come together to grieve.

This newest loss also has me thinking about the nature of loss. What is it about sadness that so resonates with us? Why do more people respond to grieving than to laughter? Yes, we’ve all been touched by grief, but we have also been touched by laughter and kindness and caring.

And why is it that those things like caring, reaching out, feel-good-stories, bring tears to our eyes and feel like tiny pieces of grief?

Why do we laugh until we cry?

Why do I get teary watching the underdog come from behind?

Why do I feel teary sitting here writing about being teary?

Obviously I’m no psychiatrist. I don’t know anything about how all this works.

But I want to know why, sometimes, deep grief feels sacred.

I want to know why sadness and loss pull people together, bring strangers out to help each other, even more so than celebrations.

I want to know why those stories make us bend closer to reach out and touch, partake, share.

There’s got to be something deeper going on than the simple glib answers about loss making us realize what’s important, or showing us our own mortality.

There’s something ancient here, something maybe genetic, that makes grief so incredibly powerful.

I don’t understand, but when I feel it, or when I see it in others, I recognize it.

Whatever ‘it’ is.

And I feel part of it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVN1B-tUpgs

Continuity

Several years ago I was invited to a fire circle led by Chief Beavertail. His goal was to bring people together through story and song. As we arrived he welcomed us and all our ancestors who came with us and stood behind us.

That image has stayed with me all these years. That image of connection to the millions of ancestors stretching out behind us.

In the 1970s I took a course on how to do bobbin lace because I’d heard it was a dying art. Bobbin lace has a fascinating history if you’re interested, and I feel connected to that long history as I weave the bobbins.

Growing up, we sisters helped mom can and put up food. We hated it. Now I can willingly, following the traditions of generations. Putting up, stocking up, preparing for winter.

Continuity, tradition, ties to the past. To family. I love that feeling of connection to land and people. But not all ties are so easy to talk about.

Last night I watched a movie called The Last Full Measure. Being honest here, I watched it because Sebastian Stan was in it and because I like a good action film. But this wasn’t an action film, as I quickly found out. I’m glad my husband, ex-Army, elected to not watch it because these kinds of movies deeply bother him.

The husband

If you haven’t heard of the movie, it’s about William H. Pitsenbarger, a US Air Force Pararescueman who, during the Vietnam War, chose to stay behind to help soldiers on the ground. Before dying in battle, he saved over sixty men. He chose to stay. He was twenty-two years old. Younger than my son. Thirty-two years after his death he was awarded the medal of honor.

Where is my continuity here? As a child, I was oblivious to the Vietnam War. The news didn’t come on the television until 11:00 pm, well past our bedtimes. But still, I’ve wondered before how such a huge thing, that impacted countless lives, wasn’t even a blip in my little-kid-world.

But I do have an uncle. And one of the things I see in his poetry is how the time spent fighting in Vietnam bored so deeply into his heart and soul.

My uncle. Before.

I have ancestors and relatives who have fought in wars, including my father who was in the Korean War. But dad didn’t see what my uncle did. And dad didn’t live long enough to tell us kids war stories or choose to keep silent. So I don’t know what impact that war had on him.

Dad on the right

This uncle, though, this man tied to me by DNA and family and generations of ancestors, walked through hell, and I only see the briefest, tiniest, glimpses of what that did to him through his words.

I cried during the movie last night, and I’m not one who cries during movies. But those tears were more for what my uncle went through than for the story itself.

Those tears were for the paths many still walk and the stories that can’t be told, but that still bind us.

Fearing A Walk In The Woods

I have long been drawn to the idea of a long hike in the woods. The Pacific Crest Trail is so close to my home. My older sister used to ask me to hike it with her, as I’ve mentioned before. I have a friend who plots out a solitary hike into the back country every summer, figuring out where she wants to go and getting the needed permit. And then off she goes, with all she needs on her back, up into places like the Alpine Lakes wilderness. I asked her once if she wasn’t afraid, out there alone, and this petite woman looked at me as if she didn’t understand the question.

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There are a lot of books about people who have gone off on long treks and I read many of them. Some, that are so popular movies have been made from them, like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I didn’t like at all. Some make me laugh, like Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods, although there is a lot in that book that isn’t funny. And then there are some, like Walking Home, by Lynn Schooler, where every page is a story that resonates with me, even though it starts out with a terrifying bear encounter.

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Another friend of mine recently told me about a hike she went on. Two women, packs on their backs, take off on for a few days on their own, into the wilderness, like it’s just another jaunt around the block.

I even follow a group on Facebook called ‘Fat Lady Takes a Hike’. I thought it would be inspiring. But then I look at photos and think ‘Fat? Her?!?’

And so, like I’ve written briefly about before, I daydream about striding forth, life on my back, to daydream in the forest and find stories in the trees.

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Then reality steps in.

I remember the horrible story in the news a few years ago about a mother and daughter murdered on a hiking trail. Experienced hikers, but someone found them out there alone. The murder is still unsolved.

I think about gear. When we go camping we need a big truck. How would I fit all that into a backpack? Clearly I’d have to go shopping for equipment based on weight. I know many people base their needs on how many ounces that cook stove will add to the pack. And I wonder how many ounces my bottle of blood pressure meds weigh, or the pad of paper and pens. The camera. The extra pair of eye glasses.

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And what about the pillow? And the thick pad of memory foam?

I think about being old and definitely not the lean hiking type. Aching knees and hips. Sore lower back.

Then my thoughts wander down the path of fear. That would be easily solved by taking along the husband. He knows how to read maps and compasses. He knows how to orienteer. He knows how to tie a multitude of knots. He knows how to cook over a fire. He knows how to fix everything. I’m always, always safe when he’s around. And I’m never ashamed of my limitations around him. I wouldn’t worry about lagging behind or slowing him down or being a hindrance.

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But I don’t think he’s ever had any desire to, shall we say, shit in the woods.

Am I afraid to walk in the woods? Not as long as I leave my imagination at home. I love being out in the woods. But I do have an active imagination. What if a bear comes along? What if a cougar stalks me? What if I fall out there and break a leg? What if I got lost?They couldn’t use my cell phone to ping my location and find me because I have a little old flip phone.

What if I got out there and gave up and turned around and disappointed my companion and let myself down?

What if I learned my dream was just that?

What if I failed?

What if I was too afraid to take one more step?

What if I was too afraid to take the first step?

I think I’ll just go reread Walking Home and continue dreaming.

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The husband’s office