Sunday, January 4, 2009


There are always passages in the books I read that stand out to me, today there was one specifically that shined in its familiarity and its foreigness at the same moment, reminding me once again that our experience as humans worldwide can be metaphorically compared in so many ways, even while the experiences themselves are so vastly different.
In this instance, I felt humbled in many ways; the author, Peter Godwin, is referring to his homeland of Zimbabwe, where he grew up as a white boy and now returns regularly as a reporter. It does not need to be said that my suffering of one, lost daughter, while it is my greatest tragedy, pales in its magnitude when it is compared to the suffering of many people living in far worse circumstances than my own. I do indeed feel humbled by this, but yet I also stand by my conviction that each man's tragedy is his own worst experience, my own suffering is not lessened by the idea that others have suffered more. We all are bonded by the process of constantly seeking the balance of what is right and what has gone wrong in our lives. I feel so fortunate to be living in a society where it was possible for me to tip that balance once again; where I am likely not to lose another child, and for this I am grateful.
The passage that spoke to me so can be found in Godwin's recent memoir, When A Crocodile Eats the Sun, (Little, Brown and Co; 2006) and it is as follows:

In my part of Africa, death is never far away. With most Zimbabweans dying in their early thirties now, mortality has a seat at every table. The urgent, tugging winds themselves seem to whisper the message memento mori, you too shall die. In Africa, you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of the stage, waiting only for your cue. You feel perishable, temporary, transient. You feel mortal.
Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death. That's what infuses it with tension. It is the essence of its tragedy too. People love harder there. Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life's alibi in the face of death.

Again, I will say that there is a piece of me that finds great discomfort in how deeply I relate to this passage that eludes to a nation in which people are literally dying by the thousands at such a shockingly young age (due to the AIDS epidemic), but there is this neon sign that flashes from Godwin's words that calls to me, this is you, this is your life. You, too, feel mortal, you too know you are only a whisper in the epic tale of the world as a whole.

In thinking about my children of late, this word has continued to come to me, pending, and I thought of this word as I read this passage. My children are pending, they are here, I can see them, but they are in a state of flux, at any moment they could be gone. Oh, you might say, oh what a sad way to live. But no! No, no, no. This is the beauty of it, and it is here that Godwin's words speak to me on such a deep level: because I see my children as also transient, I love them so actively, so presently, so now. I whirl around with them in the sunshine of life because this is today, this is now, and they are here. I love them so fiercely because we are all running from death, all the time, and why run scared? The truth about death is that there is no escape, we all will die. It is only what we do now that matters.
Liam refers to himself, sometimes, "when I grow up..." he'll say, and I think this to myself: he trusts himself. I, too, should trust him, I should believe. And it's not that I don't, it's just that I know what can happen and I hesitate to venture out too far into the sands of time. My heart soars at those words, it soars. "When I grow up..."
And I pray that he shall.


Hope's Mama said...

I do too, Carol. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Gal aka SuperMommy said...

I didn't know how much time - if any - I would get with Tikva before she was born. Knowing at 21 weeks that she would be very sick, anything was possible... how scary. She lived for 8 weeks and 2 days, and I have never loved harder than during that time... ever. When the possibility of loss, of death, is always close at hand, there is no waiting for tomorrow to love more deeply, to love harder. Every moment is now, and now is everything. I have Tikva to thank for that gift. She continues to be a good reminder of that when I am with my older daughter, Dahlia. For all I know, all I have is this moment with her. I try really hard to be as present with her, to love as hard, with this healthy vibrant child who feels to me like she will live forever. I always know that anything can happen...

Sara said...

I too want to trust in child's future. I wrote recently about being wary about doing that--even looking forward to this spring and summer sometimes feels daring. But in the song I made up for Kathleen, I tell her that we are looking forward to watching her grow, that she will get bigger and do many things. I repeat this many times each day as I sing to her and try to ease that wariness for myself. I am wary of thinking ahead, yet so much less afraid than I have been since Henry was born.

I found a poem yesterday by Ellen Bass, which made me think of you, and I think it fits with this post. It's called "After Our Daughter's Wedding," and you can find it here:

Rebecca said...

"People love harder there." Love harder. Perfect sentiment. I want to chisel that on a piece of wood and take it with me everywhere. This is what people like me, who are not babylost, are learning from those of you who are. Love harder.

Laura said...

This is such a relief to read, Carol. I think society at large would consider this an off-color or weird topic but after the loss of a child, I feel we do have more of an awareness that other children are not necessarily a given. For those of us lucky enough to have more children, I think we do see that each day is not to be taken for granted and we need to grab onto it while it's here. It is true that others might find this somehow morbid, but I agree with you - this fear, so to speak, can be transformed into a much more profound love.