Tuesday, July 28, 2009

This is the Story of How We Begin to Remember

I saw Jobie at the far end of the restaurant as I pushed through the crowd waiting to be seated. He was staring in my direction and I smiled and waved as I approached him. But he didn’t see me. His mind was somewhere else and from the look on his face, it appeared to be a desolate place. Jobie had suffered a series of difficult losses, all occurring in close proximity to one another. It involved a loss of money, the loss of his job, and foreclosure on his home. But the most painful for him was the end of his marriage

“You OK?” I asked when I reached the table. “No,” he replied absently.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked. “What for,” he replied. “What difference would talking make.” Then he laughed, at himself I suppose, and the absurdity of his situation. But the light the laughter brought to his face quickly faded into an expression that looked lost.

We sat there in silence until the waitress arrived to take our order. When she was gone, Jobie and I turned at the same time and looked at each other, neither of us shying away. The torment on his face was palpable and I felt I had to say something. So I took a full breath and ventured to address the pain I saw on his face, in a way that might make him feel hopeful.

“Grief takes it out of you, Jobie,” I began. “It’s like winter when everything dies and the days are gray. But a new love raises-up everything that grief buries. It’ll come around again for you, I’m sure of it.”

These were good words, I thought, but Jobie was far from impressed. It was naive of me to think words could soften his pain this soon into his calamity. He shot me the look of disgust a person in crisis gives someone for the temerity of offering advice about a pain they’ve never felt. It was unfair of him. I’d been down a hard road before and he knew it. But I managed to let go of feeling insulted and sat there through the long silence that ensued and loved him. It wasn’t comfortable. Seeing him suffer made me restless with wanting to help but he was right. There was nothing I could say to change what he was going through.

I didn’t see him again for more than a year. I should have called and checked-in but I got busy and maybe the disgusted look he shot me got under my skin more than I was aware. As the amount of lapsed time grew longer I became too embarrassed to call. Calling him began to feel awkward and even disingenuous because the impulse seemed more about ridding me of guilt than helping him. It was stupid since I really did care. Stupidity is what usually happens when guilt makes a nest in my mind.

Then one rainy day I literally bumped into him in front of the Museum of Modern Art. I was coming out of the building, spell-bound by the works of Marc Chagall, and ran right into Jobie. He laughed when he recognized it was me and this time his face was lit by a happier heart. He even apologized for not connecting with me sooner, which let me off the hook. We went back inside the museum, to the café. We had a glass of wine and he told me of how he “crossed the great water,” which is the way he put it.

“I tried everything,” he said. “I went to a therapist for a time … a good one, but it didn’t help. I used alcohol but it just turned me into a bigger victim. Two drinks and I’d spew arrogant and angry. For months I walked around with a dead heart and not a spark of inspiration; just this weak, hollow feeling in my gut that was like a hole that sucked the strength out of me.”

“I moved to Tahoe,” he said, “and got a job working for a shop that builds boats. Then one day something simple took hold of me. It was the beginning of fall and I came home from work, poured myself a beer and sat at the dining room table. There’s a big picture window there that looks out on the open field at the back of the place. I looked out the window at the stand of aspens and pines that a gentle breeze was blowing through. And the trees ... honest to God … they hypnotized me.”

“How,” I asked.

“Well,” he answered, “aspens have an oval shaped leaf and when the wind kicks up they quiver, catching the soft light at that time of day, making a silver shimmer of it. Every leaf on every tree starts shimmering together. It’s beautiful.”

“Wow,” I said, trying to imagine it. There are no aspens where I live.

“The pines are different,” Jobie said. “The wind catches the boughs and makes them sway in a graceful way. It was the swaying of the boughs and the shimmering of the leaves that carried me away. I sat there until dark, caught in the beauty of it. I was captured by the rustling sound of the leaves when the wind kicked up and by the stillness that followed. My whole being was one with the rhythm that the trees and wind made together. It was like the trees were a mother rocking me in her arms. And I could feel my grief, but without words, without the story. I could feel it without me or someone else being right or wrong; without me being angry. The grief in my heart hurt but it felt real. It didn’t negate me. I could feel my way through it.”

There was the sound of a sudden down pour and Jobie looked out the café window at the people on the street running for cover and he smiled peacefully. When he looked back at me, his smile broadened and he laughed. “It’s hard to explain,” he said.

You’re doing fine by me,” I responded. “So what came of it?”

“Well, I did that every day. Every day I came home and sat in that spot and looked out at the trees until the sun went down. I fell into the silver shimmering and the boughs swaying and every day it turned into the same reverie. Every day it was the same mother to me. It was the same space where I could heal the grief. After the sun went down, I would light a candle and ask for this wonderful space to be there the next day. And it was. It is the one thing that didn’t fail. Gradually my grief got quieter; it seemed able to take care of itself. About a month into it, grief stepped aside and peace began to take its place. After that I began to feel joy again.”

“How long did you do this, all together?” I asked.

“I’m still doing it,” he answered. “I can’t get along without peace anymore.”

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