Monday, April 11, 2011

Impermanence, or Memoir Note #2

Nothing changes.  The bones of the mammoth are still in the earth.
-Adrienne Rich

As I was reaching for the sweet potatoes this evening at dinner, I glimpsed my hand and felt an inner stirring, an uneasy jolt of recognition. I saw my mother’s hand in the creased knuckles and bulging veins, the long fingers with squarely clipped nails.  She has been gone for a number of years, and though intellectually I understand she is dead I still wonder, where is she? Vanished? Disappeared? Is that all? My grief over her death is mixed with my own inevitable non-existence; someday I’ll be dead and gone for eternity. When is eternity? Is it now, or does it begin after you die? I’m nearing 60 years old and I still ask childish questions.
I think of the scores of innocent people born into the world who are subjected to horrific abuse every single day of their lives.  A baby tossed out a third story window. A woman raped with a rifle. A child held by the ankles and slammed against a concrete floor. All true stories…and scores more, day after day in this crazy complicated world. Why? Someone once said there are horrors that surpass religion…and even abolish it. 
I experience sudden jolts of non-existence frequently. Logic does not deter me from understanding them in a satisfactory way; neither does faith. Likewise, I also cannot explain the sudden jolts of Transcendence felt in the presence of great art and beauty. Standing before the Raven Glacier or viewing an abstract painting, I’m instantaneously shot out of present time and the world shimmers. Temporarily. And the rest of my waking hours, if I am inclined to think about it…death…nothingness, I still feel separate and afraid.

Time is a great teacher but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.
-Hector Berlioz

We scattered my mother’s ashes in Eagle River, just as she had requested. I read “Cabin Poem” by Jim Harrison:

I’ve decided to make up my mind about nothing,
to assume the water mask,
to finish my life disguised as a creek, an eddy,
Joining at night the full sweet flow,
to absorb the sky,
to swallow the heat and cold,
the moon,
and the stars, to swallow myself
in ceaseless flow.

It was a bright spring day, with Eagle Glacier reflected perfectly off the river like a negative photo image. I thought of the oneness then, and the paradoxical nature of human existence. Again, beauty saved me. Nature gave me comfort.
And I remembered mom telling me, it’s not that you ask the wrong questions, Monica; rather, you ask ones that have no answers. Stop asking and be at peace; but simply, I cannot.
Or I can. Temporarily.
My four siblings and I split up all of her belongings, one by one. We sat on the living room floor and as each object (my mother lived simply) was passed around, a story was told or a memory reflected. After the last piece of furniture was hauled away, we scanned the empty rooms and readied to leave.  As I shut the door behind me, my sister turned and clutched my arm. “Wait, where’s mother?” she said. 
“She’s in my purse,” I said innocently. Laughter burst forth like popping balloons.
 In my purse, my mother was ashes in a box, she was in my purse, and we were laughing. It felt natural and right and so perfect.
And it still does.
The happiness of the drop is to die in the river.
-Al Ghazali





12 comments:

  1. Ah, Monica..... we are of a like spirit. My mom's birthday is this coming Thursday and the questions weigh on my heart. Life and changes, which we all face. *hugs* to you for putting some of my most previous feelings into words. ~Dawn

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  2. I always loved Aunt Helena - she was a beautiful woman, and a true friend to my own mother. I can relate to your beautifully written reflections, especially the experience of clearing out her belongings with your siblings. My mom has been gone almost 20 years now, and it's still hard to accept. Time helps but never fully heals the loss and emptiness inside when mom is gone. It must be somewhat comforting for you, though, to gaze out at the river and dwell on your memories of her, while appreciating nature. That's nice.

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  3. Thank you for your feedback Dawn and Mary. I think Spring often urges memories of lost loved ones because the change in our environment is so drastic; but in a good way too, seeing sprouts shoot up from the ground, new growth. Dawn, I'd love to post some of your poems if you're still writing.

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  4. My mother would have loved the poem you read as you scattered your own mother's ashes. And I laughed out loud when you write your mother was in your purse. Wonderful reflections, Monica. Thank you so much.

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  5. What lovely thoughts you have expressed here. My mother still lives and I sometimes try and imagine what it will be like when she is gone. Thought we spend very little time together I can't imagine being without my source and my sustenance. I love the Adrienne Rich quote. I am always learning to live with the unresolved questions in my heart, as Rilke would say, when we are able to do this, sometimes we are also able to live our way into the answers. Happy to have discovered you and your thought provoking blog.

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  6. Thanks, Holly. I love the idea of "living" our way INTO the answers.
    Radiohead, Ry Cooder, Joni Mitchell and Krishna Das?
    Yes! Music is my med'cine.

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  7. I too catch myself looking at my hand--the right one especially--which is filling fast with age spots. My mother is still alive, but in her growing infirmity, I sense Death's hot breath coming closer for both of us. Thanks to Daisy, who sent me a Twitter note, I discovered your lovely writing. Hope we can stay connected.

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  8. Shirley, what a pleasure it is to meet you. I enjoyed your interview with Ervin Stutzman about the writing process. I love reading about other people's lives and read a good deal of memoir. I definitely enjoy "having written" over writing...this brought a chuckle...I know exactly what you mean...though being steeped in any creative endeavor brings such joy!

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  9. Your post resonates with me, Monica! Your thoughts about your mother are very touching. I see my mother's hands in mine, too. She died twenty years ago in May. I've been on a spiritual journey, asking questions, all my life, too, with many moments of transcendence. I'm looking forward to following your blog...

    "A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place, but a seed to be planted and to bear more seeds toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea."
    ~ Henry David Thoreau

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  10. I've never read this particular quote by Thoreau, and I must admit...I truly do attempt to "tighten the bolt into place." Hmm...how revealing!
    I too love the sea; especially kayaking many of the bays in Prince William Sound...so peaceful.
    I love your blog, and am so happy to meet you, Barbara.

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  11. Monica I was traveling and visiting with my children when you posted a comment that you too had written about impermanence. Today I have come by to read and I find it is truly the same impermanence we are righting about. What a wonderful surprise and treat to meet you through your writing. Terrill

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  12. This is a beautiful post, Monica. All the emotions that go through ones mind and heart, when someone is lost. Where are they? Where did they go? I remember wanting to share the emotions of losing my mother actually with my mother after she died, and of course, I couldn't. I still miss her and it's over twenty years now.

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