RSS Feed

Tag Archives: giving

Chocolate

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

2013

Writing seems to be at least as good as drugs. I went to sleep after finishing my essay on becoming invisible and had the oddest dream:

The weather was chilly. I stood just outside (Irish Name) Hall, an academic building on the (Jesuit) University campus. A man smiled and hurried by on my left as he made for the door. I didn’t take too close a look. Why would I? I was accustomed to the rhythms of student life, and I no longer noticed their comforting background hum.

I can’t recall his face other than to say that he was youthful looking and without facial hair. I assumed he was a fellow student. He had brown skin, and his dark hair hung about to his shoulders. My peripheral vision told me that he wore jeans and a dark leather jacket. Something flashed bright red—a knit cap or a winter scarf?  In passing, he held out his left hand as if in greeting. Without thinking–and perhaps in recognition of some unspoken solidarity among those who labor for knowledge–I held out my left hand in return. We briefly clasped hands.

I felt an immediate, sharp pain.

Stunned, I opened my fingers to find that his touch had transferred a loosely-crumpled wad of wood shavings. I soon discovered the source of my discomfort. In the ball were hidden four nails: two small wire brads and two larger wood nails. His grip had driven the larger nails into the bottom of my palm and the smaller ones into my wrist directly below. I spun around, confused. But he was already gone.

I brushed away the nails. Their tips had become embedded just deeply enough to draw a trickle of blood. I felt piqued and violated. He had smiled even while planning to harm me, and I had held out my hand in welcome. But what was to be done? Finding no recourse, I went about my business.

I opened the door and entered the building. There I found myself standing in some sort of dimly lit café or general store. To my right stood Rodger, a former professor turned colleague. Rodger’s class and way of being had been a great help to me as I was coming to the end of a long and exhausting spiritual slog. He continues to be a wise and helpful presence though we rarely interact.

Rodger stood at the end of a long wooden table which reached nearly to his chest. In the low light, I could make out a wall of shelves behind him. He was preparing to take orders, to serve people. He looked worn out.

Still startled from my encounter a moment before, I unclenched my fist to share with him the story of what had happened. The dripping blood had formed a jelly-like blob of crimson where it had congealed in the center of my palm. I wiped it away and showed Rodger my hand. He told me he was sorry about what had happened to me. I shrugged it off.

I asked how he was doing, and Rodger confirmed that he was weary. I thought some refreshment might help, and I asked him why he didn’t fix himself some tea. I remembered he was not a coffee drinker. Rodger replied that the tea had run out.

I wanted to find some way to help but couldn’t, at first, think how. I thought about my habit of carrying a bit of dark chocolate in my purse for just such emergencies as these. Rodger said he would be glad to have it.

I felt pleased to know I had something to offer and pleased that Rodger would accept it. I hoped it wouldn’t be covered in lint.

As I began to dig around in my purse, the room filled with people. They lined up along the sides of the table facing Rodger and waited to place orders for hot drinks and make requests for foods and dry goods. As the crowd grew, I was pushed farther and farther down the table and away from Rodger. For some reason, I remember that the woman who stood directly in front of me, near the back of what had become a throng, was wearing a beige overcoat.

Once I extricated myself from the tangle, I returned my attention to the excavation of my purse. To my surprise, I found two large, unopened bars of chocolate! Their labels promised a delicious treat.

I tried to recall buying these bars but I was unable to account for their presence in my bag. I realized they must have been in the bottom of my purse for some time because I could feel that they had they had begun to break along their fault lines into smaller squares. Finally, I came upon the single dark square I had originally sought. I was delighted! Not only could I serve Rodger; I could even offer him choices. I had more than enough to share.

My alarm went off. I got out of bed and pushed the dream to the back of my mind. Later as I sat in church, I woke up with a jolt: Nails. Palm. OH.

I recounted last night’s dream to my husband as we took a long walk together. He immediately saw what I had completely missed. And now, as I sit here finishing this account, I begin to wonder about something else. I had assumed the man had intended malice.

What if this was not the case?

Because of the timing and context in which I dreamed and recorded this dream, I have decided that it belongs to The Story of Hanna. For the prior installment, click here. For the next installment, click here.

Advertisements

On Becoming Invisible

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

Sometime in 2013…

When I realized what was happening to me, I wanted to use elegant-sounding adjectives such as diaphanous or gossamer to describe the process or the outcome. Becoming diaphanous sounds so much more lovely than the reality of feeling myself disappear in dribs and drabs until I look like a moth-eaten cheesecloth or the elbow of my favorite sweater. I might even come to resemble the seat of my daughter’s Speedo after too many seasons of sun and chlorine.

This process had been stealthily underway for a few years before I stood up and took notice. Here, I am primarily referring to the fading and thinning, which is gradual and not, therefore, immediately noticeable. This gentle decline is unlikely to induce trauma.

I don’t care so much about the loss of color—skin lightening, lips fading from pink to beige, hair showing tendrils of white—or the miracle migration of hair from scalp to chin. The loss of skin tone is manageable. And so much for the loss of childbearing potential. I have three wonderful, healthy daughters, and I feel complete.

The loss of muscle has been a little harder to manage. I have always thought of myself as an athlete, a vigorous person, despite the fact that my exercise routine now generally consists of early-morning strolls through suburbia. This is par for the course, I tell myself, as is my diminished visual acuity and what may be the start of hearing loss. Oh, and who cares about that half inch of height? My daughters are thrilled to be taller than I am. They absolutely gloat. So let me be happy for them! It is well and good that they should wax as I wane.

No, I had expected all these developments. It was the disappearance of some of my actual substance that stopped me in my tracks. I went to look in the mirror, and whole chunks were not reflected back.

You know by now that my relationship to Germany, CityX, in particular, holds all kinds of powerful meanings for me. The years I spent there were critical in shaping my identity and my way of viewing life. Present during my formation and beyond, through the constant of our friendship, was Hanna.

As I aged and became further and further removed from those early days, Hanna validated that I had, in fact, existed in that time and place and had lead the life I recalled. The power of this type of shared memory, a kind of witness bearing, is truly a living thing. I think of it almost as blood.

Into my 40’s, this humor kept me firm and supple. I have experienced this phenomenon with other friends as well. My friend Anne, for example, knows my whole life starting with the first day of ninth grade. While our talks always contain new thoughts and happenings, part of what makes the friendship life giving is our holding of each other’s memories. The holding of each other’s substance, I’d say. For only certain people can recall whole swaths of us in this sacred way, keeping us alive and real as the pressure of time bears harshly down upon us.

My oldest friend, Hanna, routinely held up the mirror to me and told me the story of myself. I did the same for her. “Look in the mirror, Jane, look! There you are!”

“Look, Jane!” Yes, young Jane, you are still in this world. Even now, you exist. You are walking to school in your blue Kickers and wearing your green windbreaker. I see your pigtails swinging as you lope into the schoolyard with your red leather Schulranzen (bookbag) on your back. You are planning to collect horse chestnuts on your way home. Oh, there you are, kicking Peter Bachmann in the shin (again!). And remember how happy you always feel in the botanical garden? You are forever wandering the pea-gravel paths and rowing in the lake….

It went on and on, often wordlessly. I saw my story recited in her eyes.

I was unprepared for the blow which severed our friendship. It came in the form of a letter and carried with it the agony of death. The bitterness of Hanna’s denunciation left no room for reconciliation. It was as though she had died at her own hand and left a note saying, “I just want you to know you did this to me.” Terrible, unbearable, waves of shock, grief, self doubt, anger. It is hard to put into words, and trying to do so can still overwhelm me.

In the aftermath of her rejection, I began to notice the deflation. Parts of me began to sag and hurt. More gray in the hair, more hair in the brush. Hanna had withdrawn her holding power and denied a part of my fabric. I am smaller now, diminished. The fading has accelerated, and whole pieces are missing when I look into the mirror.

To a point, the thinning and shrinking is an unavoidable part of growing older. I do wonder, however, if it isn’t easier when friends die naturally or when they gradually move out of one’s life. I imagine the parts of us they hold drift off gently with the ebbing of their presence. I wonder—is this less painful than when they reject us and yank out great clumps of us on their way out the door? When there is grabbing, there is a sort of violence from which one must work hard to recover. At least this is true for me.

The good I have believed about myself and the authenticity of my experience has been ejected from the mirror and thrown down to crack into sharp pieces. My assumptions about myself must be reevaluated, and this will be difficult. A distorted version of events has been cut with a quick jerk of the jigsaw and bolted to the mirror–to the very spot where my eye has always sought perspective. Where do I look for answers now?

I have a lot of work to determine what is true here. I search and try myself.

Oh, I am understanding the aging process better as a result. I understand why I must diminish and become smaller and paler. Fewer and fewer people will know who I was and even who I have become; and key parts of my being will slowly disappear from consciousness altogether. I expect that in time people might stop noticing me in stores, restaurants, professional circles. Perhaps I will become just one more little old lady. Unremarkable. Unremarked. Hardly worth the effort of conversation. Someone whose presence is allowed but not welcomed. Seeing this potential clearly, I know that fear and vulnerability could cause me to shrink myself down further still, until I have withdrawn into a living death.

While I do not intend to lift, tuck, dye, buff, paint or plump myself back into a spectre of youth, I don’t begrudge those who would. It is simply not my style. Rather than deny the truth of my decline, I believe I will choose to welcome it. Yes, I am deciding right this very moment. I can cry over my losses or rejoice at my divestment.

It becomes my choice, then, to send Hanna off with a gift. No one can rip from me what I would freely give. To my children, I give my once-firm breasts and belly. To Henry, I present the lips which seek his and the hands which have issued countless caresses. To Christopher and Jack, my coaches, I offer the legs and feet of my youth. It was worth the bunions and fractures to know you, to run so fast. Hanna, I give you those parts which you have attempted to snatch. I nullify your theft by my consent. I bless you, dear friend….

Please don’t interpret my words as passive or depressive.

Make no mistake, I do not intend to go softly.

I will stubbornly affix myself to these pages so that I can look back and find myself when I feel unsure. And I’ll keep writing myself into new memories and new meanings. Just you wait and see. I ache at the loss of my past. I am unwilling to lose my future.

So I’m killing off the cheesecloth metaphor and sparing myself. I am made for better. That which remains of me after each act of giving will fold upon itself, concentrating my indivisible essence into an ever purer form.

I’m going to become my finest and truest self, a single filament as sinuous as silk and as strong as steel. And when I have divested myself so fully and stretched so thinly as to disappear altogether, I’ll just keep on going.

I am thankful for an eternal perspective.

This is part of The Story of Hanna. For the prior segment, please click here. For the next segment, please click here.

%d bloggers like this: