The Cursor, The Dance, the Hole: The Day


Whenever summer begins its slow yield to autumn, I know the day is near.  It pops up on my mental radar screen towards the end of August, blinking and flashing in my mind like a cursor on a blank computer screen.  I try to think of a million other things in an attempt to dim the thought; I try to fill the screen with letters and words to distract me from the starkness of the blinking black bar against a blank white screen.  It sounds like a methodical process, like some choreographed dance that I do with and around the day, but it's not; it's just some subconscious process that I go through each year.  And each year it works, until it doesn't.  The day always finds its way and demands my attention, rightfully so.  

This year is no different.  I felt the day's approach back in late-August, and then was reminded of its nearness recently when I got my new calender book.  I opened the book to September, and there it was, September 27th, somehow blinking, italicized, bolded, highlighted, underlined and seemingly jumping off the page, lodging itself in my throat.  "It's just a day", I reminded myself, engaging in the annual dance.  I put it out of mind, and carried on with the happenings of September 2010 rather than wallowing in the memories of September 1997.  Lord knows, there's a LOT going on, plenty to keep my mind occupied, distracted.

But it's funny, our minds.  Powerful devices.  Sometimes when we block the front door entrance, our mind finds the back door and weasels its way in.  Or maybe it's our heart, via our mind -- who knows.  Either way, we can't hide from the things that our mind and/or heart deem significant; these things will always arrive on our personal doorstep, whether we invite them or not.  This is something I know to be true.

And so it was today, this year, on the eve of September 27.  But it started two or three weeks ago, when I went to the library and took out four books.  On a conscious level, I read them in no particular order.  First the book on midwifery and natural child-birth, then the mediocre book about April & Oliver, and then today, without realizing how close we are to the day, I read The Crying Tree.  First of all, this was an excellent book; maybe the best book I've read all year.  It was a book about a 15 year-old boy who was murdered in his home, and the family's long journey through grief.  While reading it, I made no connection; I was deep in the dance and did not notice the subtle parallels between the characters in the book and my own family, nor the date.  I was totally absorbed in their story.  

The book portrayed grief so accurately, and I should have seen it coming sooner, but I didn't.  As I read the last page, one lone tear fell down my cheek.  That one tear was followed by many more as I closed the back cover and attempted to recount the story to Jay.  My words came out scattered and I knew I was butchering the story.  But it didn't matter; trying to explain a story like this, a story of grief,  is like trying to explain what it feels like to fall in love.  Words just fail, no matter how eloquent you try to be.  

Still not connecting the story to the current calender context, I sat and savored the novel, the characters, the ending.  I had successfully and subconsciously filled my screen with a rich story, thereby hiding the blinking cursor.  I had danced around the cursor.  I made it.

Yeah... not so much.  About an hour after finishing the book, I had the urge to email my mom and recommend the book.  I gave a brief synopsis of the plot, and then it hit me.  "Oh my God", I thought.  The book was all about a mother's unimaginable grief over losing her son, and here I was, in full avoidance mode, dancing the month away, sharing with my mom how much this book affected me, on the eve of the day.  In one email, I had danced my way from full-avoidance into the cursor, my eyes blinking in sync with it.  As I hit "send", one lone tear fell from my eye.  This time, it was for our own story; the story of Steve, the mountain, the fall, the call, the shock, the devastation, the permanent hole in Scott, my parents, Katie, me, and the whole world. 

I didn't plan on reading about a book about a family's long walk through the multiple stages of grief on the eve of the anniversary of my brother's sudden death.  In fact, I planned on avoiding it -- the day -- as much as possible.  But like I said earlier, even though I may not have chosen it and I didn't want to look directly at it,  it demanded my attention, my respect.  It found a way to make me honor it, indirectly, via the back door.  And now that it's here, and I'm here, I have to acknowledge it. 

My brother Steve hiked Mt. Washington 13 years ago.  He fell.  He died.  My family has a hole in it.  But we're okay.  We're surviving.  We've absorbed and are continually adapting to the hole; sometimes we dance around it, sometimes we stare at it, and sometimes we fall in it.  But the most important word in that sentence is "we";  we are still "we".  

So, on the eve of the day, I honor my brother, the memory of him and the unending love we all feel for him, and each other.   I also feel deeply for the families, both fictitious and real, who have lost their son, their brother, or any other member who has died and left a hole. 

And with that, I end this year's dance, curtsy, and take a bow.  Until next year...

Rest in Peace, my sweet brother. 

Paper, Light, Purpose: Life Changing Stuff


I have obtained three things in the past week that have changed my life.

1. A planner / calender book.  Ever since school ended, I stopped using a planner.  In retrospect, this was a necessary move.  I needed a break from the scheduled and organized life I was leading; I needed to have no plans and no organized pattern for a good chunk of time.  It was wonderful to have a break, but I am a hardcore list-maker and such a visual person that I need a book of full of paper and calenders to help me feel normal.  I found a great planner that has an ample paper supply for excessive list-making, along with monthly and weekly calender space.  I feel like a new woman.  Let's make plans, people!

2. A book-light.  If you're a book-lover, this one's a no-brainer.  I love to read, but could never read in bed because Jay goes to bed before me and I never want to turn the lights on and disturb his sleep.  I always felt deprived of this small joy and slightly jealous of those who routinely read in bed.  Finally, I wised up and purchased a book-light!  It only took me a few years.  This genius little device clips onto my book and casts a perfect LED spotlight on the pages without waking Jay.  Perfection!  Now I can wind down with a few chapters in bed, and it makes all the difference; I've gone from a midnight bedtime to a 10:30 bedtime.  Bedtime has never felt so good!

3. A new job.  Employment is a wonderful thing.  Unemployment is a wonderful temporary thing, but I gotta say, getting a job feels really great.  I had the summer of my dreams; I had little-to-no responsibility, got to travel, reconnected with friends, spent time with family, chilled on the beach, read lots of books, reconnected with sleep and generally just enjoyed myself in every way, every day.  But with the change in seasons comes a change in what I need.  In the summer, I needed nothingness.  Now, I need purpose and activity and challenge.  And so, this new job comes at the perfect time.  

The best part?  All three things -- the planner, book-light and job -- all go hand-in-hand.  I need a planner to stay organized at my new job, the book-light makes me go to bed earlier so that I can wake up feeling refreshed and ready for work, and I can make lists of books I want to read in my planner, while I'm on the train on the way to work.  Such simple ingredients, such a big impact!  Who knew that a little paper, some light and a daily dose of purpose could be so... just what I needed.

Happy Autumnal Equinox!