Saturday, November 24, 2007

what was I thinking...

(originally written back in the summer)

...when I picked up Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking? I know I liked the title, had vague remonitions of having read reviews that made me want to read it, had seen it praised in every publication I had seen mention it. But I also knew it is about grief and her experiences following her husband's death. This is certainly a worthy subject for a book and something to be read sometime, but why would I choose now to read it? Why was it in paperback and on sale at Borders? These days I do most of my reading on a small boat as far from anything as you can get in the middle of the Pacific, completely cut off from friends and family for weeks at a time, so books about loss and separation aren't exactly at the top of the list of things that one would prescribe for keeping my head on straight. I'm surrounded by people who don't speak English (or speak it poorly) and live inside my head like I haven't done since high school.

But perhaps there is something soothing in Ms. Didion's book. That she is an excellent writer doesn't need to be said, and that this is an excellent book has already been said (and said better) by so many others that I won't bother. The horrible truth upon reading about her loss is that it in a way reminds me that those people I feel ripped away from right now will be there when I get back. Of course that is only comforting so far as it also reminds that this won't always be true.

I'm only about 80 pages in right now, but the portrait of her and her husband and their life and their friends is compelling and challenging. In someways, the depth at which they comingle, inhabit the same space, so deeply intertwine with one another is something that I have always been both drawn to and repulsed by. The repulsion, by the way, comes from a place of being resistant to not being fully self-reliant and an aversion to attachments to things or people which I can't let go of, not from finding it repulsive. This is an aside, but the inevitable irony is that I attach to people and places and things deeply and intensely and faster than anything you have ever seen. If I'm going to go there at all, I'm already there before you blink. A head full of wanderlust and a heart full of homebody; God was laughing when he made me.

I should be reading the new Harry Potter, but wasn't able to get it before I got on the boat. And maybe in the middle of the ocean, away from a reality where people exist and live, instead in a place where we just work and look at the horizon, is exactly the place to read such an intimate book. As I actually read through the book, the fact of the loss and the time spent struggling with the grief get lost in the beauty of the life they lived together and the people who surrounded them. The last few years have been a whirlwind for me, trying to get my bearing and start moving in directions which can sustain me, and reading someone's reflections looking back on a life lived as well as anyone could set out to live one is comforting. The book isn't so spectacular because Ms. Didion shares how she handled the death, but rather because through speaking to all the details surrounding her experience with grief, her voice comes through saying, "I have lost this much."

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