Held [Together by the grace we share with each other] Part II
"Nothing is lost. . .Everything is transformed."
― Michael Ende, The Neverending Story
"Give me a call when you get a chance, my life is changing, and all our lives are changing, and maybe we can talk about it." Brooke relays that message to me over the phone in 2016 when I need it most, and I store that clip behind the fold of my right ear for nearly five years to retrieve it when everything turns upside down again. I always smile when I replay that memory; it makes me think of Lewis Hyde's The Gift and the doctrine that anything we hold onto too tightly [cling to with absolute ferocity] will die in our hands. I love that, but only because I had to learn to let go of what wasn't meant for me - before the rigor mortis set in. Or as the poet's poet Bob Hicok would tell us: My left hand will live longer than my right. The rivers of my palms tell me so. Never argue with rivers.
The concept of clinging to anything isn't just about possessiveness or fear of losing said thing. It's also holding to the notion that anything that's lost remains lost. Which isn't entirely true, and why we've all fallen for the absurd fantasy of "going back" at some point, which is just as ludicrous as actually combing the desert in Space Balls ["we ain't found shit!"]. When we lose someone we love, we always feel like we've lost a part of ourselves, yet do we ever fully lose the love we had for that person? Perhaps we do, if we keep trying to go back [picturing Lot’s wife turning into a column of salt]. But am I so bold [delirious] to presume that I could go up against the 1st law of thermodynamics and win?
I'm coming to realize [perhaps another joy and delight of getting older] is that deprivation and abundance have never really been separate. Loss and bereavement feel like voids, and yes, that's absolutely true, but I also like to imagine them more as widening the canvases of our lives - we just don’t know what to do with all that space. When I stopped doing heroin at age 25 after a near-fatal overdose, it made a moon-sized crater in my already devoid and traumatized life [no one becomes an opiate addict because their life is fulfilling]. It was a terrible vacancy, not just in the sense of the physical withdrawal, but because I had no idea how to live without it. And it was impossible to see at the time, but all that absence made room for a life of plenitude.
For the first few years of recovery, I was hellbent on "understanding" addiction. I read every neuroscience book and paper I could get my hands on. Then, after three years of research, I wrote my Master's thesis on the Epigenetic Mechanisms of Alcohol and Drug dependence. I talked openly about being an addict, but it was always framed in "I'm the kind of sick you can't fix." It was a ruptured syllogism: "If I understand myself, I'll get better, or I'll at least set expectations that are manageable" - But knowing what I was didn't give me any power, nor did it help me change my life, and ultimately made me question the way I'd come to idolize self-awareness itself, as a form of secular humanism: "Know yourself and act accordingly." Inexplicably, it took me a few years to think about reversing that to: "Act, and know yourself differently." which is the driving force in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [forest for the trees, sometimes, I swear].
Showing up for a meeting, therapy, coffee with a sponsee, or a service position — was an act that could be authentic no matter what I felt as I was doing it. Doing something without knowing if I believed it, knowing that the outcome wouldn't immediately [and might never] benefit me, taught me a lot about faith, but it taught me more about being useful. Continuously, I have to abdicate my notions of personal salvation and individual healing. Not just because that's fantasy, but because I know it's not about me [especially not about what I've earned or am entitled to].
When Charles Jackson revisited “The Lost Weekend”, years into his fickle sobriety, he "was most of all impressed by the sense that, despite the hero's utter self-absorption, it is a picture of a man groping for God, or at least trying to find out who he is." He understood the old patterns as driven by the same pangs of hunger: the thirst for alcohol as a longing for holiness/serenity, all this reaching as part of the same journey.
This diffusion between loss and abundance doesn’t mean sustained joy is impossible, or that all happiness is fleeting and inevitably contaminated. Instead, it reveals a more capacious vision of joy than we might have imagined—not "grace will deliver me from this suffering, or this mess", but "grace *is* this mess". Or at least, "grace is in the mess with me".
Throughout the pandemic, I have continually returned to the private journals and letters of my favorite authors. For a while, I hiked with Katherine Mansfield's notebooks as a form of presence. "Dear friend, from my life I write to you in your life," she wrote in an entry. I still cry when I read the line. It reminds me of the dusty shoebox full of letters buried at the bottom of my closet, that are now 6ft further above ground than the woman who wrote them. That somehow, love continues to endure and redeem, and language continues to persist. And it's a remarkable, almost miraculous thing how it persists. It reminds me too why I do not want to stop writing. The emails, texts, poems, and essays we write—past and present and future—are they not trying to say the same thing: "Dear friend, I write to you in your life from my life?"
I imagine each word as a piece of thread, stitching our worlds together. Long silver threads of text. Lines assisting rendering, dreaming minds not to see everything by itself and separate, but to see the seams often unseen in the dark expanse across space and time. This is, perhaps, a kind of sorcery. A power not to wield - but to hold. To practice holding. Every night, this is how we construct the ineffable other—bone by proverbial bone with what has been given to us.
Dear friend, I am writing to you in your life from my life to build each other (up). So that you may endure in me, and I will abide in you. And it will not matter which of us survives the other.
Here when I say, "I never want to be without you,"
somewhere else, I am saying"I never want to be without you again."
And when I touch you
in each of the places we meet
in all of the lives we are,
it's with hands that are dying and resurrected.
When I don't touch you,
it's a mistake in any life,
in each place and forever.