Thursday, March 5, 2015


I've always thought the song that trills like a bird here comes the sun/lalalala was a small human eternity in a pop tune, forever and always human beings have woken to the sun and spring and felt a pulse in their throat, a gentle, non aggressive lust for life, a completely unreasonable sense of well being unrelated to any actual events, but to the great turning planet and sun. When do we laugh like there is no tomorrow, when we are adults? For most of us, rarely. For some of, never. Those of us who experienced suffering and horror at a young age might have crossed the barrier of laughing like their is no tomorrow, straight over into laughing because we know there is no tomorrow. Laughing because we have seen that nothing is promised and nothing lasts, and then if we are very persistent and eager to learn, move even further along into laughing because nothing is promised and nothing lasts and yet human beings at their best are such beautiful, joyful and brave creatures, that we recognize ourselves in both the relentless black and white endurance of winter as well as the ridiculous and life infused dance of sunlight at the eve of Winter. 

The cycles of life are made spastic and chaotic in bipolar, which often seems to me to be a disease that reflects our worst fears about human existence: that our identities are nothing more than brain activity, that our emotions are ultimately unrelated to reality and come from the firing of synapses, that those we love would not recognize us if we could not recognize ourselves, that we struggle and twitch like an electrical wire on the ground- this sound and fury, signifying nothing. 

Ultimately the greatest horrors of life expose us to the greatest questions, those questions which only have answers that exist if we believe that they do. To me, this is possibly the greatest miracle of human life. The miracle of creating meaning. 

The most horror filled moments of my life have all come from the same central geography: Meaningless. The famous Holocaust memoir is entitled Man's Search For Meaning- of course it is. What other ultimate question so clearly arises from the rubble of suffering as what does this mean? And ultimately it means what we create from it. Otherwise it means nothing. If a hundred children are killed, does this have intrinsic meaning? When we are all dead and this planet is gone, how will meaning survive, with not a single trace it ever was? Human beings create the framework of meaning out of the reality of existence. This is terrifying but also incredibly empowering. 

When I think of the people that I consider heroic, ultimate examples of human beings, they embody the determination to create meaning out of suffering. When Christopher Reeves wife was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer I was a very young person, the single mother of one little boy loved beyond measure, and her story filled me with horror. I remember sobbing in my bedroom, vividly imagining what this young mother had been through, the love of her life cut down in the prime of his, paralyzed, suffering until he died, and then almost immediately after, her own diagnosis, knowing she would be leaving her two children orphans. And yet I read interviews with her and was struck again and again by one thing: her determination to give her children a framework of meaning. This was one example of parenting that I tucked into my mind to carry as a guide. 

The Oscar winning movie Life Is Beautiful- another Holocaust story- came to some controversy over its central premise, that is that a parent could or should shelter a child from the brutality existing in front of them. I believe deeply that children must be told the truth. I also believe deeply in the power of shaping our life's narrative and the power of creating our own meaning out of what has happened to us. I do not think this is always possible. It has not always been possible for me, every minute, every day.

The times in my life where I have been hopeless and despairing, watching those who continue to create meaning was one of two things that could truly comfort me in any way. ( The other was nature. ) This is a defining characteristic of all heroes- they continue to create meaning when others see an abyss. A true superpower, I believe, which has almost mystical powers to transform the reality of human situations into another reality. Not immediately, sometimes over great aching cracking sheets of ice that must pop and disperse and melt, but when a person refuses to die spiritually, when they refuse to allow meaning to be stripped, when they continue to lay the framework for some future human life that allows for peace, justice, love- that person changes reality. In quantum physics, there is the concept now that almost nothing is truly 'real' because if a thing is not there when seen from a different framework, then it isn't concretely real. This includes everything you can see and touch at this moment, not really, truly real. I think children are hyper-aware of this. 

This is why essay writing is so empowering specifically for women right now, because it is a way of taking control of our own narrative, the meaning of women's lives, right out of society's hands- where we do not trust it- and into our own. How to reconcile the truth with meaning? One acknowledges the pain of a broken leg. The other links that broken leg to the family story of Uncle John and his famous broken leg, after he had lost the other to war. He had one wooden leg and one broken leg, the story goes, because his brother found him sleeping with his wife, yanked off his wooden leg and beat him with it! 

Anxiety, bipolar, depression, schizophrenia, these diseases are as close to existential despair made a physical reality as we can get. Brain diseases and injuries. The most profound meaningless I ever experienced was in the thrall of a hurricane of postpartum delirium, months after Dakota's birth. I went from feeling the most intense love I had ever experienced to feeling as remote and cold as a star, blinking over the desert. Part of what saved me was the stories I told myself. I told myself stories about what my son would be telling people about his mom as an adult. I told myself stories using emotive words, stories about myself, in a year from now, when I was going to be better, be human again, how I would shake with fear at the close call I came toward total breakdown. Those stories connected me to meaning. And that experience forever changed my concept of personhood. As sick as I was, as lost as I was- hallucinating, hearing things- I could always feel, deep, deep inside of me, the tiny flicker of essential self that was watching this all occur. I was there. You are here. We are all here, some of us trapped in circumstances, some of us broken bodies, some of us broken minds, but all human, all dependent on each other.

When we create meaning, we create connection, when we create connection, we create inner strength. We cannot wait for meaning to come to us, we must carve it in angry chunks out of wood, we must mold it in clay, we must type it in black ink, we must splatter it in paint, we must trace it with dance, we must wake with it at night, we must chant it to the stars, we must chart it on maps, we must pray it toward the holy, we must carry it when bloody and broken, caress it when fat and unwieldy, administer to it when ill and deformed, love it when useless and hopeless. We must create meaning, and then give it to our children.

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