Last night I layed in bed reading a book (Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo) in preparation for the oral defense of my thesis. I've barely even had time to think about any of it and so it felt good to take a few minutes to reconnect myself with the project that I've already grown distant from now that it's finished.
I read a chapter titled "Writing Pain, Writing Loss" and thought about how writing helps me to clarify and better understand the experiences and emotions that are muddy or unclear to me. My thesis revolves around the idea of a sense of place. It is a memoir and explores the past 3 years of my life. It's about loss, but it's also about what I found. Last night, for unknown reasons, a question popped into my head and I wrote it into the margins of my book: "What did I lose, really?"
If I were to boil down all of my losses into one little nugget of truth...there is an emotion at the center of it all that is just as raw as it ever was. It still causes tears to spring to my eyes. It still causes a lump to catch in my throat. It still causes a sharp, deep-pitted sensation somewhere inside of me that I can't quite locate. There was one central experience that encapsulates all the losses combined--and that was the death of my dog, Abe.
I set my book down and attempted to follow two lines of thought: one was the feeling of true groundedness and connection I felt with the land I lived on and the love I felt for Abe; the other was that tight knot of loss I felt in losing both at the same time, and also my grandpa. I should clarify, however, that I didn't actually "lose" my house. I sold it. I sold it because the town it is near lacked the opportunities I desired and I couldn't afford to keep it as a vacation home. Although it was extremely difficult to leave that place in the country, in it's own way, it was necessary. Sometimes following one's heart hurts like hell...and this is one such example.
I didn't expect such a barrage of emotions to come swelling to the surface last night, but now they don't seem to want to go away--at least not yet. Writing past the surface has caused me to look at things from an altered perspective and to realize that these powerful emotions are much more of a gift than a loss. I am grateful to have loved so deeply. But it surprises me how easy it is for me to relive that place and time--as though I could turn around and it would all be there.
This coming Friday I will defend my thesis. A part of me is looking forward to it. Another part of me just wants it to be over. And yet another part of me wonders what it will be like on the other side of a three year struggle. Of course, life is never so black and white, simple, or well-defined. Defending my thesis won't cause me to quit missing Abe. It won't bring back my grandpa's smile. It won't be what connects me to a particular place. It won't rebuild my family. It won't fulfill my dreams. It won't do a lot of things.
Instead, life will just keep moving forward in its own mysterious ways. I'll make more mistakes to be replaced by unexpected joys. I'll keep trying to follow my heart, one little step after another. And, most likely, I'll be altered by life over and over and over again.
In the meantime, Louie has found a new obsession. It started today and the timing is frighteningly uncanny. You see, when Abe died I put his ashes in a ceramic urn that I made myself. The lid has a deep bowl that curves downward, just the right size for his old tennis ball and collar. It sits on the bookshelf, not getting much attention except for an occasional dusting. Today, however, Louie noticed that tennis ball. And now he can't quit thinking about it. He has sat in front of it for hours--whining, begging, and whimpering for us to give it to him. He walks away from it only to return. We haven't given it to him (yet?) because he has about a zillion toys and I don't want Abe's tennis ball to become something to be forgotten about.
But in all honesty, it trips me out a bit.
I find it strange how life gets weaved back into things. I'm not even sure if we ever lose anything. Tonight I painted for several hours and, during that time, everything felt right. All the difficulties went away. The worries, the doubt, the problems that I've had to deal with. My exhaustion was replaced by a feeling of energy. And I am reminded, once again, that none of this would have happened if all that pain and loss wouldn't have come before.
Maybe Louie is psychic. Maybe Abe's sending messages from beyond. Maybe Louie is just obsessed with tennis balls. Maybe things will never be easy. Maybe these tears will never go away. Maybe I'll keep loving so much that someday my heart will burst.
And maybe, in the end, everything will work out perfectly. Or maybe, just maybe, it already is.