Thursday, June 24, 2021

Thinking About Grief

I have been writing. I can't say whether I've been writing successfully or not. I've been writing in the same state of mind in which I've been doing everything else over the past year - drifting in a dreamlike state. I had a long bout of a strange non-Covid illness in late February, a final, ironic cap to the pandemic quarantine, and though I'm physically better, the brain has not emerged from its fog. It hasn't helped that several friends and relatives have recently lost dear ones and are struggling with grief right now. There's nothing you can say. You can only be present, and I'm having some trouble even doing that.

I was nineteen when my father died - the first big loss in my life. I remember thinking that until someone you love dies, you don't really know the meaning of the word "gone". It's more than just physical absence; it's a black hole in the universe. The whole world you knew is sucked into it, and you come out the other end to find yourself on an entirely different planet. No matter how much you hate being there, you're going to have to live in this new universe for the rest of your life. 

So you do the best you can, like it or not, to build a new life, because what else can you do? And you do build a life - you're even happy again, eventually. But nothing is ever the same.

I've told this story before, but it seems fitting – Years ago, I was a department head at a university library while a new wing was being built on the building. My departmental offices and reading room were to be relocated to the new wing, but my very large, closed*, special collection of books was to stay in the old building. The plan was that they would knock a door in the wall between the old and new sections, providing us access to our books.

Until, out of the blue, the library director called me in and told me that there wasn't enough money left to put in the door, so were going to be left with our offices and a reading room in one building and our books in another, with no access between them without a ten minute trip from our fourth floor location, down to the ground floor, through to the old wing, upstairs to the collection, and back again. This was not the first time, nor would it be the last,  that I sat in the director's office watching the walls melt and feeling the top of my head about to blow off. After a long, passionate discussion, he promised to reconsider our dilemma (ya think?), but when I left his office, I was so frustrated and annoyed that I went back into a corner of the stacks and burst into tears.

Naturally, one of my colleagues stumbled across me and, alarmed, asked me what as wrong. I babbled out the door story and he listened sympathetically. There was absolutely nothing he could do for me, so after standing there helplessly for minute, he clapped me on the shoulder and said, "Well, have a nice day." It was so absurd that I laughed.

The Great Door Incident was only only ridiculous, not tragic, but I mention it because of what that colleague did for me. He listened and sympathized, and even though he was really powerless to do anything, he made me laugh. He didn't change the situation, but his attention helped me feel better.

By the way, I did get the door.

In other news, I feel my fellow TypeM-ers' pain about technology. I recently bought a new modem, which has greatly improved my Zooming experience. The new equipment has done little to help my state of mind, however. I have begun venturing out into the world again, which is nice, but I haven't regained my sense of time yet. I'm usually lost, unaware of what day it is, even what time of day (which is why I totally forgot to write my scheduled Type M entry on June 10th!) Sadly, I am brutally aware that it's summer here in southern Arizona. I doubt if anyone in the first world hasn't heard we had a week's worth of high temperatures over 115ºF. (46.11ºC). That'll kill you, I guarantee. Fortunately we had a little rain today, and the temps have dropped to the low 100s, which feels downright cool. I think it might be time for Don and me to move to a more salubrious clime.


*A "closed" collection, for the uninitiated, means that the public is not allowed into the book stacks. You have to look up what you want in the library catalog, and a staff person goes and retrieves it for you. Most university libraries used to be like this, but these day only special collections do it like this. And yes, it's a pain.

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