Sunday, 24 July 2011
Purple Clouds, Grey Sky
In this part of England, as the earth turns further from the sun and toward autumn, the sunsets take on a purple hue. I have never been terribly good at summer. Even in those halcyon days when summer meant no school and plenty of time to get in forty hours of work a week, I always found the loose ends of my life fraying. It may well be the reason why, for so long, I have chosen academia as the backdrop of my existence--that need for a narrative--beginning, rising action, crisis, falling action, denouement--a lack of knowlege, gain of knowledge, proof of knowledge, rest. It's the resting that I'm no good at, the moments of taking stalk and planning a new year leave me wondering how to continue, what path to take, where to go next. I find my life without students rather exhausting. August is closing in. Next august will mark the end of my current visa. I do not know what else it will mark the close of. I am uncomfortable living a life without a formal narrative arch.
Like so many of the people around me, I am trying to learn gratitude--not joy, or optimism, or certainty, but gratitude. It's easy enough to count my blessings. It's easy enough to count my grief. Gratefulness is harder to come by.
On Saturday, a year after I completed my PhD, I walked across the stage in that final symbol of a hard earned achievement. I'm sure that I was not the only graduate to find that walk tinted by grief. My mother wasn't there to see me any more than she had been there when I finished high school, or college, or my master's degree. This is no blessing. It is also an odd sort of grief that pops its head into the life I've grown used to over the sixteen years since her death.
It is a tradition in my family that at moments of great achievement we wear my mother's pearls. Early on Saturday morning, I toyed with the idea of leaving them in the jewelry box. I don't miss my mother anymore. It's difficult to miss someone who has been gone so long. I never knew her as an adult. And this fall, I will have lived more of my life without her than I lived with her. There was part of me that thought that I don't want to spend the rest of my life knowing she is missing. I don't want every achievement to be overlaid with her absence. I put her pearls on anyway and wrapped my grandmother's bracelet around my wrist, even though I credit neither of them with my survival of the PhD--and it was a question of survival. I miss them. I loved them, but I did this thing on my own. Part of me deeply resents the fact that the only choice I had was to do this thing on my own.
And this is what I mean about gratefulness. Friends joined me for graduation. They took seats in the front row despite being made uncomfortable by the focus that put on them. They smiled for and clapped the entirety of a graduating class in anticipation of the final two of us to cross the stage. Though they knew that that walk would be a lonely one for me, they chose to be present so that I wouldn't feel so far from the life I imagined rather than the one I have now. And when I left the tent, before I could find my friends, it was another friend who gathered me in her arms and let me cry that sixteen-year-old unchangeable loss. And this is what I mean about gratitude. Nothing can change my mother's death and nothing, most certainly not me, can change my father's absence from the handful of joyous days in my life. I am trying to learn gratitude for the multitude who have attempted to mitigate that grief and who have reminded me, even at its hardest, that I am allowed my joy.
Posted by American in Bath