The more difficult things become – subjectively – the more I want to make beautiful things, and the more frustrated I become with my lagging craftsmanship. I spend evenings in the studio staring at the paper. Judging. I should have invested more time here. Been patient with myself. I understand now the absurdity of impatience.

M. writes about her diagnosis in a chat message. B. talks around hers over the phone, but on social media, she writes amusing anecdotes about chemo and radiation therapy.

And I find myself separated by one more degree from other – more sudden – death. My brother’s chosen brother, whose parents watched the coffin being carried out of the church yesterday. Put in the ground.

There are places we don’t want our minds to go.

I pull back and assess an angle from which to offer… what exactly? There’s no comfort to offer M. and B., so I offer attention. And I try to comfort the grieving along that chain of sorrow. The people whose pain I understand. Whose helplessness I can relate to. We can choose our connections, but we cannot choose our losses.

I can at least relate to loss.

Yesterday I dug out the last letters to and from my mother. And to and from my grandmother. All the pain came rushing back very unexpectedly. The anger. Fury. Clicking and popped in my chest like a wasps nest as I told myself to keep breathing. To let go of the tightness. There is nothing to brace myself for. It’s over. I copied them and tore them into strips and began the process of making something.

Beautiful is absolutely the wrong word.

Meaningful?

True.

The odd thing is that sorting through this single box of the artifacts of my life, I also ran across love letters from my ex-husband. I couldn’t bring myself to read them but I glanced at some of the phrases on the brittle paper. I’d forgotten the sweetness. The openness. And I mean forgotten in the sense that in reading them I experienced no recognition whatsoever. I am glad I didn’t see these during the divorce process, it would have overwhelmed me to see the whole of what was lost over the years. What good I needlessly let go of. Why can’t I look at these and just think: how lucky we were for that span of time? Without running a post mortem on those twenty-two years. Appreciating, but not clinging, to the people we were.

Nothing is permanent and, for me at least, life has been a series of small but absolute endings that are metaphors for death itself. My mother used to practice for her own mother’s death. That seems superfluous.

Some holy people meditate on their own rotting corpses. But new life begins in the decomposition. The ripping up of the old constellations of parts, making something new of the elements.

For right now: I choose to focus on that. The ripping-up. The making-new. One true thing from all of the lies.

I think that the more I do it, the better I might get at it.

A difficult night last night. Three a.m. text messages are never good news. Even when the news is edged with hope: a turn for the better, an “it could be much worse”.

It’s not the knowing that all things are impermanent that is comfort, it’s the acceptance of this. And I am forced to redefine the concept of “comfort” in my mind.

Again I read in a news article that it is foolish to say we live in uncertain times when the future is always, and has always been, uncertain. It’s a matter of how aware we are of that fact.

An alarm pulling us from sleep, even to offer hope, exposes our most vulnerable nerves. These truths that fade in sleep. Or in dreams, are popped into relief as a kind of rehearsal for the inevitable. Waking is a reprieve sometimes. Awake, asleep – both are ambivalent states of being. There is nowhere to escape from ourselves.

Is there comfort?

Soothing is not healing. But doesn’t try to be. What if the largest part of our job is a kind of palliative care? What if all that there is, is the soothing of ruffled feathers? A warm hand on a cheek? An intention to reassure one another: you are not alone.

Breathe, and be here with me. Even over a telephone connection. Like a dream. Listen to the wind against the window. Be here with the wind.

Reaction is not action.

In the theater, an actor’s every, individual action is supposed to be an assertion of the character’s will. Actors strive to inhabit the character’s lack of self-awareness. Acting is the inverse process of living Socrates’s examined life. Don’t act: react.

Art is, by most definitions, artifice. It has the intention of recreating life. But for what purpose? Many diverse cultures have had a tradition of hiring mourners for funerals. Actors, reacting in an act of compassion. We cannot bring back the dead, but we can care for the living. The theatrical is no less real for being theatrical.

And leading an examined life, acting instead of reacting, is no less real for its directorial perspective.


It’s one thing to accept the futility of one’s own will in regard to illness and accidents – the events of the greater world. It is another entirely to accept that there is no one to whom we can appeal for guarantees. No one’s will can stop the world in its tracks. It keeps turning under us, and we are forced to put one foot in front of the other. Because that is what we are here to do.

“You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

― Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

Even the most devout of us will caution that not all prayers are answered with yes… And they go on with that knowledge.

In a news report two years ago the journalists described the video that had been online: in her final moments, a young woman who was beheaded by terrorists cried out for her mother. Her mother, who was so far away. And unaware of that moment at that moment.

Somehow the mother, knowing this, goes on. She breathes still, now, beyond the unimaginable. The surreal. What can any of us offer her?

And each other, knowing that this is somehow all of us. All of it.

Of all the scenes in all the films I’ve ever seen, burned into my mind is that moment in Private Ryan where the soldier asks for a time-out. When I react in fear, that scene comes to the forefront of my memory.

If I had Socrates to dinner, I’d tell him that the unexamined life is most definitely worth living. Necessary even. We live for each other. Sometimes we act, sometimes we react. We give attention. We care. This is the nature of us.


This morning I light the candles, and the incense, and I unroll the mat. Through the window, I watch the tree across the street moving in the storm. Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. Let my shoulder girdle settle. Spine in the center of my body.

I reach upward. Inhale again.

I am tired. I’m confused. Raw. And aware of my fortunate state of being. In this moment.

Who can stay on the middle path when the storm is blowing and the road is covered with ice?

We try.