The Hole in Your Soul

I sat on a bench today and tried another 10 minutes of nothingness.

Again the crunching of footsteps, I flipped my eyes open. Tourists stopping to snap pictures of Morning Glories along the fence.

Closed my eyes. Thought about this documentary, Griefwalker, I saw last night. (I couldn’t get the cable box to work — without Chris and the kids to show me. At least, Netflix worked.)

In the film, Stephen Jenkinson sits by people who are dying. One older woman didn’t really want to face it. Sure, we’re all going to die. But we want to like to live like we’re not going to. Our culture is death-phobic. We must embrace death as part of our journey. It is a part of our humanity. There was a metaphor in the film about setting off the canoe, a metaphor for the body. When useful, the canoe springs leaks, and we patch it. But eventually it sets off from this shore.

There was another metaphor for how we talk to and prepare our families for our certain deaths. We set the table for them. We must acknowledge the journey, like indigenous people; we must bring our family home. Not let them die in hospitals. But so many of us are cut off from our homes. It is a hole.

We may refuse to acknowledge this hole in our soul. We fill it with narcissism or eating or drinking.

I am pathologically happy-go-lucky. Is that my denial?

Living with someone who is chronically ill, how do I talk about the inevitable, the illness, the feelings? I don’t really know anyone who is going through what I’m going through. Am I handling Chris’s Parkinson’s Disease well? Especially for my children? Is my optimism a bit of a veneer? The film reminded me to let people have their space. Don’t rush in and fill the void. Let there be sadness and joy; life and death are both a part of the journey. Let me have space too. It is all part of the loop.

I was alone last night, beached out on the couch in front of the TV last night. One of my daughters is at a service project in Alabama; another goes away tonite for weekend-long party. Chris is directing a play in Florida. And, of course, H. is in college. I was tired — have not had a day off from writing and teaching in more than 11 days. (Workaholism is, at times, how I fill the void in my life.)

For my mindfulness project, I was going to walk the labyrinth in Battery Park today, but the gate was locked. So I sat on a bench, folded my hands in my lap, tried to clear my mind. Slowed down.

The Statue of Liberty was nearby, and so was the big sculpture that used to be in the center of the World Trade Center. I used to sit by that sculpture when I worked at the front desk of the Vista Hotel in the World Trade Center before work or during my lunch hour.

The sculpture now rests in the park. Some people rush by. The sculpture is a metaphor for the hole in my soul, the sadness. It is okay to be sad. It is okay that the sculpture is there. Grief is not bad. It is part of our humanity. And so is this — a woman sat on the bench beside me, nursing her baby.

Celeste Victoria and 9/11

Cat was watching a Linda Ellerbee Nick special. I frowned. She explained, “I want to know what happened.”

“Turn it off,” I said.

“It’s okay, it’s on Nick. There will be no upsetting images,” she said.

I left the room. A few minutes later, I heard H. tell Cat, “Turn it off. This show’s upsetting me.”

Cat turned it off and came into my room. “Why does it upset you? Do you know anyone who died?” She asked.

celeste victoria“I did. I knew this great, nice, fun mom. Celeste Victoria. Though sometimes I’d get her name mixed up. And I’d call her Victoria Celeste. But she’d laugh that off. She worked with me at Manhattan Neighborhood Network. She was incredibly kind to everyone. Seriously. I remember telling her that too, ‘You’re so nice to EVERYONE. To all the crazy people with cable access shows.’

“She helped me with my show. And it was just so unfair to me that someone so incredibly nice and beautiful would die. She was a single mom, about my age. Her little daughter would be with her at MNN sometimes, doing homework at the reception desk. She was such a nice little kid too. It was just crazy that her mom would die.”

Back in my MNN days, I’d heard Celeste’d gotten a job in the corporate world and had left MNN. And I learned Celeste was helping to staff a breakfast at Windows on the World that morning. I thought of how she must’ve found it lovely to arrange a breakfast there and probably had looked forward to it. I always loved going to Windows on the World with friends or family, especially when I was in college.

All during college I worked as a front desk clerk the Vista Hotel in the World Trade Center. I walked through the concourse hundreds of times, ate my lunch in the windy, sunken courtyard between the buildings.

It’s really too much. The commemorations are everywhere you turn this week. On every newspaper cover, on every TV channel, on every announcement in the my workplace elevator, there’s some kind of ten-year anniversary reminder, prayer service, discussion group. Christ! And then there are the images — ghost-like light beams of the twin towers at night.

If I have to remember 9/11 at all this week, and apparently, I have to, I’ll remember Celeste Victoria and her smile.

I don’t want to be re-traumatized. I don’t want to return to the incredible beauty of that morning.

Maybe it’s okay, it’s raining all week. It’s fine to be depressed.

Dreary’s fine. Eventually we’ll get sunshine. We won’t get Celeste. But we can be like Celeste — hard-working mothers who are friendly to everyone, even (and especially) the crazy people.

This was the sunset over the Hudson the other day.