Thursday, October 04, 2007

Soup is enough.

These days it feels like I have a front-row seat at The Grief and Pain Show. I've watched friends lose loved ones, have loved ones all tubed-up in the ICU, and stand by and watch as loved ones suffer. For now, I'm observing from my inside my bubble of good fortune, surrounded by gifts and lucky coincidences and what seems like the heavens just smiling down benevolently all the time. It makes me feel like I'm being taunted with my friends' pain. Providence (or fate or luck or whatever you might call it) is telling me, "See? One slip of the knife and all this is gone. See what can happen to the kind, good people all around you? Don't get too comfortable, sweetheart." Providence can be a real bitch.

And as an accompaniment to all this life and death, I'm re-reading one of my favorite books, More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin. I haven't read it in fifteen years, and I hadn't realized until now how influential her essays were when I was learning to cook. Her best recipes get the maximum amount of love and joy into a meal with the least tedium and busywork possible. It feels like I'm reading what I myself would write given more skill, more experience, and a New York Jewish background. But as I re-read and re-discover her book, my enjoyment is colored, knowing that she died suddenly while she was working on it. She was 48, she had a young daughter, and she had a massive heart attack. Another elbow to the ribs from Providence: "See? Any moment."

I am not a proponent of the "everything happens for a reason" and " you get what you give" schools of thought, because when you get right down to it, that says to someone in pain one of two offensive things, maybe both. "You must somehow deserve this" or, "Your pain will bring someone else joy, and it's worth it." I know that I don't deserve my good fortune any more than my friends deserve their pain. Bad things happen to good people. All we can do about it is care for our friends when they get the short end, and let ourselves be cared for when it's us. In the meantime, you can choose every day whether or not to be a jerk, and while choosing not to be a jerk doesn't get you a get-out-of-pain-free card, or a seat at the Eternal Table, it makes your life nicer. It makes everyone's lives nicer. That's all we have, and it's more than enough.

So my strategy is to plant grass, make soup, work hard, and let my close-by grieving friends tell jokes about death and misery. And I'll laugh at their jokes and invite them to take a break from saintly stoicism to be selfish and petty for a bit and then I'll encourage them to order the grilled cheese. For the far-off friends, all I can do is send a note, think of them, wear the bracelet, and know it'll be my turn in the dark soon enough.

So, if you have a moment, reflect on my friends and their loved ones who either are in pain, or have been released from pain. And then go about your day and do your best to avoid being a jerk. It's easier some days than others.

Ann's sister
Ethel's husband
Ann's niece
Lesley's husband
Maggie's child
Pat's husband
Bev's son
Carter's mother

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