Yesterday, on my first nearly-empty day in ages, I ended up in the afternoon curled up in the sun (there was sun!) and reading the book Naomi said I had to read (which was, ironically, titled I’ll give you the sun –Rebecca: just buy it). I’ll give away a little thing that if I had known I wouldn’t have read it: It’s totally and utterly about the death of a mother of two teenagers—from the perspective of the kids. But it is also a spectacular book and those of you who aren’t mothers with cancer should rush out and buy it. (To be fair, Naomi always warns me when there’s a character who dies of cancer—this was a car crash so she didn’t think it would bring anything up for me. Hello?!) This book turned out to be so well written and compelling that I couldn’t put it down even once I knew it would hurt me. In fact, I probably read it faster because it would hurt me. I ended up finishing the book on my purple chaise, curled up in a ball crying, but they were the good kind of tears, you know?
Today, Michael and I went to the first yoga class I’ve been to in ages. There too, was great delight and the shaking, stretching pain of being totally in my body for 90 minutes. There were many times when I genuinely didn’t enjoy what I was doing, and other minutes (mostly when I was lying down) when I did. Afterwards, Michael said, “I always forget how much I love yoga—it feels so good.” And of course he’s right and also there are ways it feels terrible too.
I’ve started to wonder if most of our joys have that quality—the mingling of many forces that we come to read as delight in some way. I was taken aback in college when I learned that the French have an expression, “la petite mort” (the little death) which refers to orgasm. There’s that juxtaposition of life force and death again. The more common blending for us is called bittersweet, an acquired taste in life and love and chocolate. I’ve been writing about those things which are “bittersweet” for longer than I’ve had cancer—the first laugh of a baby, the swell of pride at your daughter’s high school graduation, the day your book manuscript leaves your hands forever to return as a book you can no longer change. Each of these is its own petite mort, its own surge of life force and death all at the same time. Each of them has beauty braided with loss. That is, I think, the ultimate human condition.
And I suppose that’s why it matters to see all the colours of the braid. Hopelessness is a real threat right now. I don’t just mean for me, just beginning to see the barest hint of symptoms of my treatment in the faint blush of my skin and the faint prickles of my personality. I mean for us as we watch a man who, like millions of 12 year olds before him, gets backed into a corner having to make good on stupid things that he once said he’d do if he had the power. That sort of young adolescent braggart generally fills me with something like pity, but this one is president of the United States which fills me with something like despair. Might you be leaning there too? And yet, we know it’s braided somehow, and we’ve seen those braids a little in the Women’s marches all over the world, the in offer from The Netherlands to make up for lost funding for family planning and the offer from Justin Trudeau to take the refugees Trump is refusing. My practice this week will be to look for the braid of colour when it seems from a slight distance to be all darkness and misery. Will you look too?
PS the picture today is from dinner during my firm meeting. You can see we’re doing serious work on perspective taking and communication (as we play the funniest game Z taught us)