What kills love? Only this- Neglect
I am going free form tonight, a first for me. It is kind of like going commando only less interesting for others. My writing process is lengthy and labyrinthine. I get phrases, fragments, memories of an idea I have not yet had; and I wait to find out what ties them together. They loiter for days or weeks, sometimes months before I can discern any organization or meaning from them.
I have been too full of fear and sadness to notice the march of future essay ideas. I have been lost. But tonight a quote from author Jeannette Winterson announced it’s presence and demanded to be wrangled with: “What kills love? Only this- neglect.” [Note to self/attempt to hold myself to the same standards as my students/ I will post the name of the book when I remember it]
My grief-stricken and single-focused mind seized it and tried to put in on my dissolving relationship like a sweater two sizes too big. Of course it fits- and there are a million versions of neglect- but the phrase wanted to be bigger.
So here I am, no pants on (figuratively, people!) wading through the murky water of criminal neglect.
The original sin, the doorway of the beast, is to forget to love oneself. Scary, terrible shit happens all the time. In calmer times we commit to mindfulness, to walking ourselves through fear with compassion and loving-kindness. But when your personal earthquake strikes; a disease unravels your nervous system, for instance, or you lose the only person you could not bear to lose; all bets are off. You are thrown into a primal place, the dark space that lurks under your carefully constructed philosophies. Who has time to meditate, to stay connected to them selves when the water is rising? When the floods come, I do my best to just disappear. I need to save others so that I do not cause a fuss when I too start going under.
The instinct is so immediate and the personal costs are so great that I am suspicious that something other than altruism drives my many rescue missions. Perhaps always saving others is a feeble attempt to control reality. I think I am hiding; preserving whatever is left of me by ignoring there is anyone left at all.
It is a pattern of a lifetime. The siren call of putting myself in front of whatever is hurting someone I love; then limping away empty. Fetal in a cocoon of self-protection, I attempt to float towards the next me. When I was first diagnosed with MS, I became a superhero. Fighting with all claws out when I witnessed injustice, when people were getting hurt. It was all a great distraction from my own Titanic. I forgot to pay attention to myself. I licked my wounds alone, and never let others see them. I was fragile and overwhelmed. I still don’t know how to live with this diagnosis; I still don’t know who I am….now.
After the loss of identity, comes neglect of the people and things that could have reminded me of who I am. As the water rises I am too overwhelmed by the probability of drowning to reach for the life vest. Love is neglected by refusing to appear to be drowning to those who would save you. The disappearance is almost complete, even I cannot make out the outlines of me anymore.
Then out of nowhere there are cairns in the abyss. I stub my toes on them, I grope wildly in dark space, until my hand hits another. And another. And somehow, I am pulling myself home. Making peace with what is gone, no longer resisting the current. There is a path, or maybe just a vague sense of the surface. Strewn with stack-stoned flags from other realities about the enduring nature of connection, compassion, life itself.
I am starting to see them. My vision is blurry and my muscles are weak. Just when I start to go under again I find a cairn and hang on. I am hanging on with my last ounce of strength. There are people I love who can be rescued only by my continued efforts to surface. Maybe this is some essential truth about love itself; the rescue has to be your own. When the cabin is losing pressure, you do have to put on your damn air-mask before assisting anyone else. I wish I had paid attention to the thousands of times I've heard that from flight attendants: "If the cabin loses pressure, the air masks will drop. Secure your mask before assisting others." The air masks will drop! There will be enough air for everybody.
I will myself to be visible, I will my self into the future. I know the first step is to love myself enough to let you see that I am drowning. Here is the battle cry I have choked on all these years:
It hurts. I am scared and treading water. I exist. I don’t recognize my body, I am not certain of who I am anymore under the weight of a decade of loss. I resist the comfort of disappearing so as not to bother anyone. I found a cairn and it showed me the most important thing, the thing we all think we won’t forget but do anyway:
I still fucking exist.
So what now?