Tuesday, October 9, 2012


"Until you are forced to realize that life is not what you thought it was. That the control you thought you had was an illusion. Until you learn the secret that so few people know or even want to know: that this world, with its joys and its sorrows and its structure and its chaos is really just a sorry imitation of how the world was meant to be."

- Charlotte, from An Inch of Gray. She lost her young son Jack a year ago in a flash flood on a regular day in the backyard of a regular house. Every ring of deep recognition I have felt in my life has come from the mouth of someone who has suffered a great tragedy. Have I suffered great tragedy? Has my soul been shattered into a thousand pieces and have I felt such despair that the world itself seemed like simply a teeming mass of suffering? I don't know. Yes. Yes?

Merriam Webster Dictionary:

Drama of a serious and dignified character that typically describes the development of a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force (such as destiny, circumstance, or society) and reaches a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion. 

As a child I have handfuls of beautiful memories that slip out of my hands like blue colored water rushing through the rotted gates of an abandoned house, but one whose skeleton remains, standing for what will be my my lifetime, a small but unparalleled architecture in each of my cells. My mother is there, and my sister, and my father. And now, after all the years in that sad house, only my mother and I remain. Lost to my father, lost to my sister. 

A sorrowful conclusion.

It is with the greatest astonishment that I realize at 37 years old that I have experienced tragedy. So this is the name for the thing that rises from the pictures of my towheaded self and my sister, gloriously healthy and stocky and freckled in the arms of our impossibly slender and beautiful redheaded mother.
The things that happened to me were not just in the form of what could have been. They were what was, and what was taken, and what was battered beyond recognition. For this the word 'innocent' and 'innocence' to this day strikes a note of almost unbearable poignancy in my heart. I have seen the faces of human beings like before and after photos of innocence, and because those faces were my own, my sister's, and in some way, even my mother's, because of that I will for all my life feel a calling and a deep understanding and compassion for every person who has had their innocence shattered, for what remains behind. So many sit in prisons with their rotting houses perched like unconquerable cities in the DNA. Where the very strong may come out of the house and out of the water with their hearts half dead but still beating, not everyone is so lucky. Not everyone was born strong, or smart, or resilient, or any of those three. And those are the truly innocent, and often they do the most harm once free. I pray for them fervently, and cry every time I hear the singing

 ' Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.'

Because I know for all the pain and all that has been lost, I am lucky.

And because I know this, I know to pray for my father, also. And because of this, I understand something running through the God-core of all the religions to which I do not belong: that we are all sinners, we all need salvation. When I read as a middle school student a memoir of a Holocaust survivor who said that everyone in the camps did wrong things, things they could never admit to anyone- least of all themselves- that they did, stealing shoes from dying women, a piece of bread from a  child to weak to walk, pulling their family closer as others fell, I was not astonished; it astonished me only that there would be any question otherwise. In a tragedy, no one is a hero. Some of us are survivors though, and we see the world differently. I am one of those. I survived. 

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