Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A friend of mine recently sent me Joel Lovell's New York Times book review of George Saunders' new short story collection. At the time I read this review, I was working on writing my first book review [of Mario Benedetti's short story collection The Rest is Jungle], I was in Brasil, and every day I was struggling to find a balance between mourning the loss of Jake and experiencing each moment of my trip. In the opening paragraph of the Saunders review, Lovell says the following:
A friend I loved very much died recently, and I was trying to describe the state I sometimes still found myself in — not quite of this world, but each day a little less removed — and how I knew it was a good thing, the re-entry, but I regretted it too, because it meant the dimming of a kind of awareness that doesn’t get lit up very much. 
I feel this. Exactly the way he said it, I feel it. Except for feeling like re-entry is a good thing. I know intellectually that re-entering is a good thing, but emotionally, it still feels wrong, like a betrayal, or like a second kind of loss. Saunders responded to Lovell's mourning process:
“It would be so interesting if we could stay like that,” Saunders said, meaning: if we could conduct our lives with the kind of openness that sometimes comes with proximity to death.
This is what I strive for all the time. I haven't mastered it, and it's very difficult when you don't have other willing participants. Because for whatever reason, I have been in proximity to death for most of my life. Some people just lose people. That's how it works. Other people never experience loss until they're much older. In a way, my proximity to death has shaped who I am, for better and for worse. And I believe that this is in part why I am so prone to being open, to sharing, to connecting. Or at least to trying to connect. The relationships in my life that I value the most are those in which I can say absolutely anything and either anticipate the other person's response, or at least trust that that response will be one of love and compassion. But I'm getting off track here....

I am home. Which is to say, back in Los Angeles. When I was last in this apartment, Jake was in the hospital, everything was in limbo, I was trying my best to pack for my month away from LA. I don't remember much from that day, or from the week that followed. I remember receiving the news via a message that showed up on my phone as I was just about to move my luggage from my trunk to the trunk of the paid driver who took me to the airport. Standing outside my friend's house, we formed an awkward triangle: Me, L, and the driver. L was waiting for my car keys, the driver was waiting for my luggage, and I was waiting to process the information I thought I was receiving  that I couldn't possibly be receiving. My body was reacting, was shaking, but my mind was saying, stop pretending to be upset, Ali, this is just a joke, you're just being ridiculous, so calm down.

My apartment was much cleaner than I thought I'd left it. There are some new plants sprouting in my front yard. There are fresh oranges on the tree. It's colder than normal, but there are still palm trees.

In just over a week, I will go back to Colorado again. I will have a week of home that I can actually remember to compensate for the week this December that was lost. I will attend Jake's memorial services. I will continue to try and find balance. No one can sustain such an intense level of grief for the rest of their lives. But anything else feels unreasonable. I know how this works. I'm no stranger to death, to mourning. But I am a stranger to this world without Jake in it. An academy without Jake in it. With the people I love, I will take steps away from this thing that happened. But they will not be steps away from the kind of openness Lovell and Saunders imagine. They will be steps toward that openness, steps toward the kind of love and compassion and empathy and comfort that sprang up in the midst of losing Jake. The only thing I learned from such a devastating loss: that there are people, that there is love, that there is understanding, and that there is strength.


Joel said...

Hi Rachel,

A friend sent me the link to your post, which I found very beautiful and courageous. I'm so sorry for your loss, and I hope you're able to find comfort where you can. Take good care,

Joel Lovell

Joel said...

I mean, "Hi, Ali." Apologies. -J

Ali Rachel Pearl said...

Thank you, Joel. You contacting me about this feels like the universe extending some much needed support. And I'm sorry for your loss as well.


Ali Rachel Pearl said...

Also, that was the best book review I've ever read in my life. Ever. It helped me write my own review and it helped me think through a lot of important things in addition to making me want to buy Saunders' new collection.