Gross, Wrong, Tragic

Paul Wellstone, a rare light in so much dire political darkness, is dead. Words seem useless now.

Why then, why there,
Why thus, we cry, did he die?
The heavens are silent.

What he was, he was;
What he is fated to become
Depends on us.

Remembering his death,
How we choose to live
Will decide its meaning.

When a just man dies,
Lamentation and praise,
Sorrow and joy, are one.

(W.H. Auden, Elegy for JFK)


The Thoughts

There are thoughts that take over.

You know the sort. You feel like you're dealing with things levelheadedly, and clearly, and rationally until The Thoughts come along and take up residence in your brain, front and center (or wherever the primary locus of concentration is), nearly obliterating all else. They don't let go until you manage, somehow, to purge them.

And sometimes that process takes the form of a message that you must sit down at your computer and write in a nonstop, keyboard-abusing blur, so impassioned are you with what you have to say. After you write such a message, you feel lighter, stronger, clearer, and you go about your day knowing you've won the battle against The Thoughts.

Unless you're me, that is, in which case you get only halfway through your day before the worries set in. You worry that what seemed like passion will come across as bluster. You worry that all of your attempts to set out rational arguments cushioned by honest caveats and admissions will seem just shrill and angry. And more than anything, you worry that the steps you'd seemed to be making in the right direction have now been completely undone by your clumsy backward stumbling.

But what's done is done, you remind yourself. You can't take back the message, even if the Recall feature in Outlook actually worked (which it doesn't). And although you think you may have botched the tone of your words or used 'fucking' one too many times, you're not entirely sure you'd completely want to take it back if you somehow could. You've said (however harshly) what something in you clearly needed to say, and you must find some comfort in that.

Besides, when you've already lost the war, what's the sense in trying not to lose more battles? You're done.


...but there are, still, the roses

In early March 2001, when I was especially in need of some straightforward, soothing counsel, the Boy sent me a passage from The Golden Sayings of Epictetus. (Full disclosure: before I knew better, I expected Epictetus to be some semi-obscure technical journal; it is to the Boy's eternal credit that he didn't laugh--audibly, at least--when I told him this.)

The passage ends with this:

'But that any of these things are misfortunes to him, is an addition which every one makes of his own. But (you say) God is unjust in this.--Why? For having given thee endurance and greatness of soul? For having made such things to be no evils? For placing happiness within thy reach, even when enduring them? For opening unto thee a door, when things make not for thy good?--Depart, my friend, and find fault no more!'

For placing happiness within thy reach, even when enduring [misfortunes.] As inclined as I am right now to wrap myself in layers of sadness, and as willing as I may generally be to accord others space for their own sadnesses whenever and however they arise, I refuse, in my stubborn, headstrong way, to believe that happiness is ever either truly out of reach or not worth reaching for.

I can't (obviously) claim to know much about the Stoics, but if even they were willing to concede the existence and accessibility of happiness, what's to keep us from doing the same? This is not a cry for self-centeredness, not an argument for the disregard of others or a full abdication of whatever responsibilities we may have in life, surely not a claim that happiness being within reach means it's something to be effortlessly snatched out of thin air.

Rather, it's a manifestation of my fierce belief that for all of its complications and difficult steps and imperfect choices, the quest for happiness--or true contentment, at the very least--is crucial to life (a twist, perhaps, on Auden's 'We must love one another or die').

I have put forth William Carlos Williams' line before: 'You cannot live and keep free of briars.' But now, more than ever, I understand: it is true, it is true, it is true.

The Ivy Crown (1950)

The whole process is a lie,
crowned by excess,
it break forcefully,
one way or another,
from its confinement--
or find a deeper well.
Antony and Cleopatra
were right;
they have shown
the way. I love you
or I do not live
at all.

Daffodil time
is past. This is
summer, summer!
the heart says,
and not even the full of it.
No doubts
are permitted--
Though they will come
and may
before our time
overwhelm us.
We are only mortal
but being mortal
can defy our fate.
We may
by an outside chance
even win! We do not
look to see
jonquils and violets
come again
but there are,
the roses!

Romance has no part in it.
The business of love is
cruelty which
by our wills,
we transform
to live together.
It has its seasons,
for and against,
whatever the heart
fumbles in the dark
to assert
toward the end of May.
Just as the nature of briars
is to tear flesh,
I have proceeded
through them.
Keep the briars out,
they say.
You cannot live
and keep free of

Children pick flowers
Let them.
Though having them
in hand
they have no further use of them
but leave them crumpled
at the curb's edge.

At our age the imagination
across the sorry facts
lifts us
to make roses
stand before thorns.
love is cruel
and selfish
and totally obtuse--
At least, blinded by the light,
young love is.
But we are older,
I to love
and you to be loved,
we have,
no matter how,
by our wills survived
to keep
the jeweled prize
at our fingertips.
We will it so
and so it is
past all accident.

(William Carlos Williams)



Just in case I've not yet learned what loss feels like, and how much it aches: Nonnie has died.

Here are the grasping reassurances Mom and I try out on each other on the phone tonight: she was 96, and lived a life beyond her own or anyone else's imaginings. She watched too many of her children die before her--Aunt Jo was the last straw--to want to stay around any longer. In the hospital today, she had a chance to make preparations for what she saw as the trip before her, and took communion, and was served last rites. We can't by any stretch call her death early or unjust.

But still, she's gone. The woman who was my mother's inspiration, and so much my own, is gone. My tough as nails Italian grandmother, who survived far more than I ever could (I mean, fuck, look at me now), my Nonnalina, is gone.

For her sake, I am grateful, as I was for Poppa's sake when he let go: finally, rest, and nothing more to fight. The sadness, I guess, is for those she left, Mom especially: a levelheaded view of this won't do much to dull her pain.

It seems we're all being forced to learn on our feet now: hold hard, let go, go on.

Arrivederci, Nonnie. Your Emmalina misses you already.
As I was saying goodbye to my Shanti client yesterday after helping him with the way too painful process of adding a user to an MSN account via a dial-up connection, he offered profuse thanks, as always, and then said, 'I never want to lose you.'

My first instinct was to say, with a tiny, aching laugh, 'Could you bottle that?' But I didn't--he likely wouldn't understand the English idiom, my Spanish isn't up to explaining it (my Spanish, in fact, is not up to much), and regardless, I didn't want to dilute his sentiment by trying to transfer it to someone else.

So instead I put on my sunglasses, hugged him, said as much of a 'Thank you' as I could get out before tears, and started my long walk home.