Rendered Fat Content


Alfred Stieglitz: The Steerage (1907)
" … wiser than we ever expected to become for the passage."

I feel most gratified and also most mystified by the means by which attitude transforms into gratitude, usually, it seems, by way of rage and resentment. The rage seems well-deserved, and even resentment might initially seem justifiably permanent, for in our tribal past, I suspect that deep grudges might have served some positive evolutionary purpose and not become merely self-destructive, as our much longer lifespans have rendered them. For we firmly believe in endless second chances, recovery, and mulligans, each experience potentially a learning one capable of eventual appreciation. What arrives as a shock might moderate into calmer focus. Since none of us seem capable of fully appreciating any moment, reflection often brings deeper understanding, which might morph into genuine appreciating even for the initially apparently worst of them.

I've been reassured that it does not ever get any worse than what befell us this week, though I didn't experience the worst of the event.
I received a text then took a call, and then another one. I was not the one who showed up and personally witnessed my daughter dying. I did not have to drive her car back home, as did her grieving husband. Sequestered by long distance, I made no funeral arrangements. I read her final diary entries and tried to make sense of what first seemed absolutely so senseless that my senses abandoned me. I went numb, an experience beyond sensory experience, a drastic dumbing down in the face of apparent absolute senselessness. Meaning emerged begrudgingly, for I didn't at first desire acceptance. I understood that I'd heard the truth but preferred to deflect if not completely reject it. I preferred to put off absorbing it, so I first held it in distant suspension, not so much denying but deferring acceptance.

At first I refused to mention it, my ugly unmentionable secret. I called my siblings, of course, and somehow found words, and notified a few close friends, asking them to avoid broadcasting. A long solitary day gave way to a few lost words. The Muse had encouraged me to write after I'd announced that I would not be writing that day. I think the writing found me and led me through the maze. I had not intended to write a eulogy, for the full reality of the loss had not yet sunk into me, nor has it yet. I had no idea what to say, so I said nothing, which turned out to be the perfect thing. My grandson, on the day before my beloved Heidi died, drew a picture when he visited his grandmother's house. She asked what it was and he reported that it was a grave with flowers surrounding it. My grandson seems clairvoyant now, given following events, but the lot of us have always been clairvoyant without really recognizing it. In retrospect, it often seems that we already knew but that we could not quite untangle the allegory to make sense until after the subsequent events. This superpower seems the pinnacle of uselessness, for it prevents nothing but later understanding that this universe might actually be mysteriously connected and that we might be equally mysteriously blessed.

Nothing, it seems, ever successfully prevents anything. Stuff happens. Hell, even shit happens! Even worse than that! Defend the front and it will seep in through the bathroom window. It was never different. If rage results, so be it. Some events deserve all the rage anyone can muster. I suspect that those Rs—rage and resentment—emerge to be dissipated, never to become enshrined. They might represent senses returning after a shock so that this wide and unforgiving universe might come to make sense again. Even then. Some insist that it's a process with predictable stages, but rages range far beyond either knowing or predicting, better suited to later reflecting than permanent wallowing. Grrratitude grows to become simply gratitude if you're lucky when you feel utterly unfortunate. Once the senses return and the rage and resentment have expressed themselves, only gratitude remains and it has your name written all over it. It does not demand that you accept it. It offers only possibility, never promises, for it seems to know just how hollow promises seem in that moment in time. Pick it up anyway.

This remains a difficult passage, steerage class for the best of us. Each experience seems to provide grist, leaving it up to us to make any sense of it, if any sense will ever be made. What first makes no sense can, once senses kick back in spewing off rage and resentment, might find some tenuous balance. We make up stories which inhabit our memories forever after. It will not be the event but the story that liberates or imprisons us, our choice whether it poisons or nurtures. My daughter Heidi was wise beyond my knowing. She struggled through a year of increasing desperation. I believe that anybody who has not experienced such depths has no way of knowing the wisdom possessed by anyone who has. I know that I've been close. I know that I could have kept on going into a wisdom beyond anybody's knowing but well within their eventual understanding, though I never would have understood then. We might first justifiably shake our fists in Grrratitude, then later, humbly fold our hands in reverence, awe, and acceptant gratitude, wiser than we ever expected to become for the passage.

This was a week well worth forgetting, may its memory far outlive me!

I've long insisted that the most important things happen at the least convenient times and, cluelessly clairvoyant, I might have been right without ever understanding the inevitable ramifications of this belief. It seems both wise and prescient now, though that buys me little. The Muse and I have experienced a warming flood, a raging torrent of reassurances and well wishes this week as a result of our personal tragedy, which suggests to me that we've all been there with somebody before and many have been there themselves. I'll let theologians argue over whether this place embodies heaven or hell. I, personally, cannot tell, though I prefer to believe it's heavenly, and it mostly seems to be, though sincerely punctuated with hells. Thank heavens it's only the punctuation! I entered this week innocently, believing that I might be knowing. I exit this week understanding that I knew nothing and reassured that I might never know. I find a reassuring wisdom in this recognition, though I acknowledge that it's "just" my story. The ones with the best stories win.

I began my writing week in relative innocence again,
GrowingInto, confessing that, "I now consider that I'm continuously GrowingInto, understanding that by the time I've closed that gap, another chasm will have most certainly opened up. I trail behind."

I next indulged myself in the emerging international pastime of
Carping. "Criticism seems to have overtaken plagiarism to become the latest sincerest form of flattery."

I reflected upon the mix of drama and trauma accompanying our impending relocation in
Drauma. "Heading anywhere seems to insist upon displacing the space surrounding us."

I confessed to some serious misgivings about not shaving in
Bearding. "I concede that I've been aging all this time and seem ready to accept the judgement that I've become an old man, no longer simply of indeterminate middle-age, but clearly an elder." I shaved my face clean the following morning.

I next confessed to owning a resident inconvenience in
TheSecondCar. "Our stuff reassures us, I guess, so we retain it at considerable inconvenience."

My most read piece of the week,
SayingNothing, ended up saying everything I could have ever imagined saying, a lesson well worth remembering.

I ended this writing week investigating
Mouving, the kind of momentum only achieved by shoving and mourning. "We seem to be everywhere at once and perhaps never more present than just after leaving."

I usually end these weekly summaries by appreciating my appreciative readers, you. This sometimes seems like a recursive echoing easily mistaken for decorum rather than anything deeply heartfelt. It's never been more genuinely heartfelt than it has been this week because I doubt that I would have felt anything had it not been for your overwhelming appreciating. I echo it back with relish! I stand before you washed innocent again, a little wiser but clueless about whatever comes next. Perhaps acceptance stands in for clairvoyance and gratitude for knowing anything. Thank you!

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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