In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, the narrator talk about Lot’s wife (from Genesis), who, he says, “was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes. People aren’t supposed to look back.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is to be human. The love-driven, gut-wrenching, glorious, sun- and wind-filled, disappointing, evanescent, lonely, connected, never enough – never never enough – singular condition of humanity.
We do look back. We long, despite the illogic of doing so, for what was, for what is not. We turn ourselves into pillars of salts. We carry our grief around with us (as Dianne Wiest’s character, Nat, says in John Cameron Mitchell’s brilliant 2010 adaptation of Rabbit Hole) like bricks in our pockets. We do this, Nat offers, because it’s what we’ve got instead of whatever it is that we’ve lost. That suffering. We’re not supposed to revel in it, but I don’t think we’re supposed to avoid it either. It’s not that we like that brick, exactly, but it’s what we’ve got.
There’s something else, though, about being human. Something that begs us not to look back. J started her period today. No November baby. No Thanksgiving baby. Another month of patience and planning and worry. Another expensive attempt. Another hope-filled (frightened to be hope-filled) surrender. In addition to this news, my life these past few days has consisted of:
- my second period since losing Emmett (bleeding still brings fear; the trauma is still raw)
- the delightful day J described in her last post (a day filled with in.the.moment life. a pause on looking back, a momentary allowance of the beauty of just being, of being together, of having survived)
- a screening of all six hours of Angels in America for the course I teach on American culture
- concerns about my mom’s health (her low iron, its unknown cause)
- a gathering of friends, of community (this difficult to bring about in the busy months of a semester)
- and a beautiful production of RENT courtesy of my university’s super.talented theater department.
Given all of this – the head space created by all of this – I’m so aware right now of the need to live right now. Thirty-year-old Prior Walter hospitalized with AIDS. Not wanting to stop moving. At any cost. Kids – talented kids who could be my students, who are teachers in their own way – up there singing with so much sincerity you can’t not love them. Twenty-somethings delivering to their audience a lesson made all the more poignant by their youth: “There’s only us. There’s only this. Forget regret, or life is yours to miss. No other road, no other way, no day but today.” These years that we’re given by who knows what, for who knows why. Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. I think this is where I always get lately. Maybe I get a little closer to understanding it each time I get here. So many paths to getting here. Fleeting. Heartbreaking. Glorious. Fragile. Life. Life. Life.