An experience that knocks you on your ass is tough to write about. When something is so big that it cannot be contained by words, it refuses being stuffed into a shape. So, I write around it, not about it. It holds a literal negative space that appears only in the shape left behind after I cannot write it.
My best friend and the love of my life for 12 years died May 16th 2009. It broke me. And it left behind a darkness impossible to describe—changing everything.
In that darkness, pleasure also changed. And this is the “around” that I can write today—or try to.
I remember distinctly sitting on ASU’s campus, outside at a picnic table on a break between teaching two classes, trying to understand how I could continue to “do” while simultaneously feeling so vacuous. Motivation was not my friend and all of the things that used to give me pleasure did not taste, feel or sound. Not only did they not seem the same—they did not seem at all. On that warm day, I felt a soft breeze and noticed the leaves on the tree overhead move. I heard them rustling against one another. I saw the light bounce through their movement. I noticed the hairs on my arms lift with that breeze. And I remember thinking—this is a little thing that I can recognize as something different. I cannot call it pleasure and I cannot call it happy or beauty because the words don’t work for that. To say that it was something small and significant is the best I can do to relay its immense impact in that moment.
We have the habit, as human beings, of suggesting that these small shifts in time and space are not significant. We use phrases like, “same shit different day” and “business as usual” as if this somehow makes the notion of a ho-hum existence a reality, but that is not the reality if/when you are forced into a spot so sensitive that everything looks new and different each moment. And in practice each moment is completely different than any one that has ever come before or will ever come after. These tiny, often subtle, differences can provide a brightness, a lightness, and a buoying effect. I cannot compare that breeze to the joy of independence I felt when I received my first car, or what I felt the first time I stepped off of a plane in Manhattan and breathed in my first “real” city. I cannot say it was as amazing as the dinner we spent on the balcony of the Bellagio resort when we knew the head chef of Olives restaurant personally. I also cannot say that in those days I would have noticed something as quiet and true as a soft breeze on a warm day. What I can say is that those small, subtle moments—those soft breezes—matter.
Some days are dark. Some moments are heavy with things that cannot be described but weigh more than 8,000 pounds. Sometimes the attention you give to the experiences in front of you lighten the load. And that is no small thing.