On Life, Learning, and Loss
(This week’s Notes on Writing – after a long hiatus – Oct. 14, 2022)
I am bereft and brainless, sweeping floors, cleaning up dishes, organizing closets. Such motion acts as an antidote to grief, a swipe at feeling in control even when I know I have no control. My dear old dog, who loved life and refused to leave the party even when she could barely walk, see, and hear, has left us. The vet told us three years ago she was dying. The dog didn’t speak English, so she paid no attention.
A tumor grew in her belly. Fatty deposits the size of small watermelons erupted from her undersides. In the end, a tumor in her mouth bled uncontrollably.
I know every individual deals with grief in their own way. I tidy. In a few hours, I’ll head out to the garden, because this is the season of garden-tidying, and because the garden has long been a place of solace. Then I’ll heed the words of the wonderful T.H. White, author of “The Once and Future King.” Here’s what the writer has Merlin say to Arthur on a particularly difficult day:
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewer of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – – to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
There it is. Learn. The thought reminds me of an exchange between a writer and the poet Robert Frost on the occasion of Frost’s 80th birthday.
“ “In all your years and all your travels,” I (the writer) asked, “what do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned about life?”
“He paused a moment, then with the twinkle sparking under those brambly eyebrows he replied, “In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on. In all the confusions of today, with all our troubles …. with politicians and people slinging the word fear around, all of us become discouraged … tempted to say this is the end, the finish. But life – it goes on. It always has. It always will.”
For a prompt, write about a loss and how you managed it. Certainly read it aloud. Send it to me if you’d like. (And to all the incredibly kind folks who wrote to me after my last blog about my dog, a most sincere thank you for the heartfelt sentiments.)