I spent a few moments with one of my neighbors yesterday. Eveyln has a progressive and terminal lung disease, given 2 years to live -- 5 years ago. She is gritty. She asked about me and then said she missed Jeff being out in the yard working on things. "I knew how sick he was before the cancer, and his stubbornness made me stubborn, too. I'm still mad at God about the whole mess."
It takes a lot of effort for a woman with progressive lung disease to say that many words. Later I reflected that there was a time I would not have been still long enough for her to say them. I'm glad I'm no longer that hurried.
I'm working on the outline and beginning pages of a memoir. As I write sentences and paragraphs, and try to commit remembered scenes to the page, my heart sometimes hurts. As is often the case when I'm writing essays, I resist this discomfort. I want to stop writing and go dig in the garden dirt. And yet, there is an unsettled sense of urgency that drives me back to the page. And there are the voices of people I love reminding me that I have a story that needs to be told. So, I find myself digging pretty deep to find the precise, exact, story. I've had this feeling before, this persistent and unnamed urgency, where the story or the wisp of memory is elusive and yet I know it is important. It's a moment, as a person, where the uber-logical technical analyst person in my head is told to stand down and be patient.
I started out thinking that I was writing about the year that my husband fought cancer, and accepted death, and about the surprising lessons I learned while bearing witness to his wrestling with grace. I thought that I had "context" that I would need to work into the book. It would be important to relate that there had been 9 years before the cancer diagnosis that he lived with and fought myasthenia gravis, and to share how the effects of a back surgery and pain medications changed him. I would need to delicately work in the details of anxiety disorders and chronic depression. And I want to make sure that the joyous, funny, generous man with the crazy energy, the man I knew before all of these things happened to him, is alive to the readers of my story. It would be important to say which parts of that lovely spirit remained until the very end. Yes. All true. Nicely analytic and neat.
While I know that these considerations, as we say in discussions of writing, inform the writing, it seems to me that in the best essays and memoirs, they are more than context. These details are more akin to the interwoven threads upon which the rest of the story is told - the warp and the weft of a life. That's how I need to think of them, and it will be harder to write, but better.
This is my story, and it is also Jeff's. It is also the story of us. And the participants are gloriously and imperfectly human, and also gloriously and imperfectly infused with grace. Perhaps, as I think these days, grace is given most generously to those who freely admit to flaws and foibles. Evelyn, and Jeff, and my family and the dozen other families I know that have been touched by loss in the last year. Our story is not one of sudden and unexpected loss, it's the story of a longer war. But it is also not all about loss. It is, in great measure, the story of how unexpectedly beautiful and rich are the gifts of simply staying and doing what needs to be done. How difficult, how tenuous and how lovely
Be well and joyous, wherever this may find you.