I grabbed the Economist out of the mail today and flipped quickly to the obituary, like I usually do, and wondered who would be the subject next week, next month. Who is alive right now who will not be when I next pull the Economist out of the mailbox? Like I usually do.
Craig is curled and heavy my arms. I was rocking him in the glider in my bedroom, pinning his flailing arms and legs, shoving a pacifier in his squawking mouth, squeezing him into submission until his immature nervous system finally stopped firing out random signals and let his heaving bucking limbs relax. So now he is relaxed. I run my thumb across his forehead, smoothing. His sleeping mouth sucks at the paci. His sleeping hand clutches at my shirt. Tucked in.
Robin Williams committed suicide today. Since everything is a circle that all winds back around to my children, I think about depression and addiction and a mind that goes so quickly, the chattering streaming monologue, and how relieved I was to hear that Mr. Williams’s mother Laurie preceded him in death. I think also about how little the public will care when I die. It will not be like the way we all collectively gasped at the loss of Mr. Williams, and Mr. Hoffman before him. And I wonder which I’d want for my children. A plodding, quiet, uneventful life of contentment, or the mad loneliness that seems inevitably to accompany the mad artistic gift – beloved by the world and yet walled off from it.
People on facebook are talking about sadness, but I know depression isn’t sadness, but blankness. Depression is absence. Addictive substances are hole-fillers, putting something where there is nothing, and almost always the Nothing swallows up the Something and then the gravitational pull of the twin diseases cannot be escaped, even by a mind running so manically, frantically as his. Outrun.
A couple of days ago we were disciplining our oldest for getting in the baby’s face and trying too roughly to make him laugh, again and again and again, too too many times. And at first he was defiant as we lectured, but eventually he broke and his face split open and in a vale of tears he wailed “But I just love him so much, I just love his smiles, he’s so little and cute and I just want to make him smile.” And I loved my oldest boy so keenly in that second, I almost couldn’t bear it, so my face split open and through a vale of tears I wailed “I think the same thing about yoooooouuuuu.”
I’m not sure what these things have to do with one another, except that I think there is a fine line between a vale of bittersweet tears and a set of blank dry eyes . . . between feeling keenly the pain of the human condition and feeling nothing in the face of it. We humans, each standing inevitably alone. We reach and reach for each other, grasp each others’ hands sometimes and sometimes not quite making contact but always reaching toward each other, except sometimes a loved one stops reaching and your hands claw through empty air and you want your arms to grow long enough to cover your wingspan and the loved one’s, too, but you can’t. Your reach goes as far as it goes, and no farther, and if they won’t reach back . . . you feel sadness and they feel blankness and though to outsiders those emotions probably look the same the distinction between the two is vital, literally. So maybe the difference between sadness and blankness is all in the reach.
His manic, crazy, genius mind. I read an article recently that said there is some scientific theory, some potential actual physical proof that human consciousness continues beyond the death of the body, into some plane of existence we cannot comprehend. I hope that if it’s true, the heavy blankness is left behind, leaving only the lightness and energy that we all loved him for. I imagine him, lighter now, lifting like a helium balloon, like a bubble, like a bird with air under its wings. Up up up and out of sight, and his family below, arms outstretched, a vale of tears, reaching. I just love him so much, I just want to make him smile. He made us all smile, he dimmed the pain of the human condition for millions. Blessings be on his immortal soul, now and forever amen.