I think this has been the saddest summer of my life. The weight of it all caught up with me today.
First there was Matthew’s death in June, which shook all of us to the core and has consumed a tremendous amount of emotional energy since.
Then something horrific happened to one of our grad students. Her mother had requested a restraining order placed on her father. The judge denied the request. Later, the father showed up, got into an argument with the mother, and ended up shooting and killing the 10-year-old brother and then himself. I can’t even imagine how an experience like this would affect a soul.
A few weeks later, the aunt of a co-worker — a woman who had helped raise her from a pipsqueak — borrowed an unfamiliar car (a pickup) and rolled it with some of the extended family inside. The aunt died, and others inside were horribly wounded. The young boy is still undergoing excruciating procedures to stretch his remaining skin up onto areas of his body that have none.
Then there was my mishap — a tiny event and insignificant repercussions in comparison, but it echoed Matthew’s experience so closely — car-on-bike, uninsured motorist — that it served as a poignant reminder of how blessed and lucky we all are to be alive from moment to moment. It’s all so fleeting. Matthew went under his car, I went over mine. He’s dead and I’m alive. Sounds glib, but that’s about what it comes down to. And physically, even though a fractured arm is small in comparison, it took the wind out of the summer’s sails. This wonderful new house, and I was not able to launch into any projects, not even able to mow the lawn. Robbed of some of the joy of the first months of home ownership. Put every project on the list on hold. Doubled the length of my commute. Made typing two-handed impossible. Made it hard to help with Miles. Just screwed everything up.
The universe wasn’t finished with us. While on a photo trek in Kashmir, the husband of one of our photography teachers was broadsided in a San Francisco intersection (car-on-car). He had to be pulled from the wreckage with the Jaws of Life, and is recovering slowly.
This morning, I woke up actually depressed about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to enter the race for governor. Not depressed about him per se, just depressed that there are so many people out there that think this is a good idea. So star-struck that they can’t see how idiotic it is to want a leader who has never served in politics. That this actually seems not just okay, but desirable to people. About what Schwarzenegger’s image means in the collective unconscious — think of his movie rolls – and that this is what the collective consciousness actually wants. I should be able to laugh about it, write it off as the cartoon that it is — but I can’t, because it’s not. It’s real. And it’s fscking depressing.
Amy has been saying recently how depressing it is to take Miles into the city. To see the aggression of drivers all around, to see Miles fascinated with the shit left behind by homeless people, to see the rudeness and coldness and disconnectedness. She talks about second-guessing our decision to stay in an urban area rather than packing off to somewhere more rural, and I know exactly what she means. In contrast to Miles’ pure, unadulterated joy and innocence, this uglyness we’ve become so jaded to somehow gets … unjaded.
So I’m walking home from BART meditating on all of this, wondering where it’s all going and how we fit into it all and how to reclaim happiness, when I see something very surreal. Ahead of me on the sidewalk there seems to be a short woman packing a large doll into a garbage can. Only it’s not going in very well. I get closer. What I at first thought was the “doll” comes out from behind the can. Her face is bent, distorted. Her arms are tiny, with misshapen hands about where your elbows are. She kind of waddle/hunches, rather than walks. Then the other woman, red-haired, who had had her back to me, turns around. She’s the same height. Her face and body are similarly distorted, but different. Her face is stretched taught, as if made of plastic. I am caught in that uncomfortable space of wanting to stare but knowing I can’t. I smile at one of them. She is expressionless. They go back in the house. Are they sisters? Or just comrades? Thalidomide babies? It doesn’t matter. Their daily lives are painful in a way few of us can imagine.
I was shaken by the encounter, and trembled the rest of the way home. When I saw Amy, I just broke down. Cried. The sadness of the world just imploded on me, had been building all summer.
I am lucky to be alive, healthy. Most of us are. Enjoy your body, your health. Enjoy the hell out of them. Ultimately, they are fleeting. Regard cars with the utmost distrust, whether you’re in them or outside them. And above all, be kind to others. Increase the love.