Sorrow: IV. Synchronic
Time is the medium in which sorrow swims.
It takes me almost three weeks to feel the real emotional weight of cancer. Somewhere between towns, in a remodeled central New York barn, I sob quietly while my friends make music. Ask me why and I couldn’t tell you. Try to console me and I would brush you away. Maybe it’s the way weeks are piling up, the fact of cancer accumulating. In the first days after my diagnosis, I merely had cancer. Three weeks in, I have been living with it. What a difference the present perfect makes.
A colleague notes the strangeness of my situation: When she was diagnosed with leukemia, the doctors went to work immediately. She was in treatment for months, still is now, but there was no hesitation, no time to breathe, no time to think. Precisely because my disease is so much less deadly than hers, I have been asked to sit with it. As my care has been put on hold, so too have I put much of my life on hold. Yet the hours still pass, unstilled. They seep into my pores and I grow heavy, my reservoir swelling. Crying, I let accumulated feeling trickle out, my cancerous month flowing freely.
At the barn, I am sad because of what gathers, but I normally measure time by counting the things that fade away. How many friends have left my life? How many would still be close if I had been more careful? I think of a wedding invitation to which I never responded. The envelope was full of glitter that lingered on my furniture like a guilty trace, long after the envelope had been discarded. How long had it been since I had seen the groom? How hard would it have been to graciously decline?
Sorrow’s first substrate has always been regret. Hands unheld, words unspoken: These are the things that make me saddest. If we neglect what comes before, we do so in order to keep from crying constantly. In mourning Mick, I also mourn my time in Ithaca. I mourn gorge trails I will never walk again, with or without him. I cannot follow other paths with the map of those behind me still in my mind. Knowing that I must forget, I am adrift on sorrow’s sea, Odysseus in reverse, slowly carried away from the people and places I have loved most. This sadness seems as inconsolable as my past is irrecoverable.
Irrecoverable? At Cecily’s wedding, I run into Miranda, someone I have not seen since we graduated from high school thirteen years ago. We walk together across the green lawns of Fort Worden. Soon enough, Jess falls into step with us. He left Ithaca before I did, but he is here now and he is laughing. Catherine catches up to us at last, and the three of them talk together, talk as if they had known each other longer than a day. I run ahead to greet Lily. When I turn, they are still there behind me, the sun at their backs. I see my teens, twenties, thirties, all together, all bathed in the same young light, synchronic.
In spite of myself, I always cry at weddings, but not because I am entirely unhappy. Cancer too is not without its consolations. Friends reach out to me, friends I have not spoken to in years. Improbably, I feel I have been given a second chance. The past saddens us not because we think we have gone wrong, but because we fear we have done wrong. Maybe I have. Maybe I can try again.
When we imagine time we think of a line between then and now. We say, Time is a ray of light, eight minutes old, sent from a nearby star. I say, Time is a field, a field in which our friends walk, a field warmed by the setting sun. I am running ahead. There is time enough to fall back.
-July 8th-12th, 2014, Washington, DC, Seattle, WA, and Port Townsend, WA