Another sunny day at the bench though rain is in the forecast. C. and D. drove off in their tiny blue car together; an anomaly because they usually work out separately. A short male jogger asked me what I was doing, and said, “That’s beautiful! Phenomenal! Fantastic!” in rapid succession. I love people who (ab)use superlatives on a regular basis. J.C. the artist up the street slowed down her truck to talk with me about the upcoming block party that she’s organizing for July 18 and the art garage sale that Candy is hosting in early August. I asked her if she had heard that her neighbor had died, and she hadn’t. “She and I danced together…That’s what I’ll remember,” she said, and, “Life is precious.” “Yes, we have to savor it,” I said. One of the bereaved sons with handsome Italian features from his late mother came outside to let his tiny white dog stretch its legs in the yard. We said hi but didn’t bring up his recent loss. The truth is I’m just a witness, a bystander, to their grief. While my neighbor was alive, I struggled to accept the sense of distance between us. It was as if she kept a polite rapport between us, greeting me en route to her car or the mailbox but rarely lingering to visit. Perhaps my daily appearance across from her house made her feel uncomfortable…Too, I’m sure she knew about this blog which perhaps contributed to her guardedness. But probably the best explanation is that her life was packed full of people already; the heart has its limits. All I know is that I am strangely grateful to her now for having spared me the grief this time around. Not all heartache is for me. I cannot love all people equally–I have been given a small circle of people whose life and death hold great weight for me. If anything, my grief feels secondhand: I feel for the family, for C. and D. and the people who grieve her absence.
Recently, I went to a Sufjan Stevens concert, and it was curious because he talked about death all evening. Not exactly the standard feel-good fare that I’d expected from a singer whose music has topped the pop charts in recent years. He said each one of us occupies a space–both psychic and physical–and that the death of someone we love makes us aware of that space. Perhaps it’s a bit corny, but I liked it when he said that after someone dies, they still occupy a space inside of us. In some sense, they are always a part of us even if their physical body no longer remains.
Occupying space is something I’ve had on my mind for a long time. At a certain point in my life, I withdrew into the recesses of myself perhaps out of shame and a need to protect myself. I can see it in the rigidity of my posture in old family photos; the frozen smile. I was always blaming myself for anything wrong that happened, and like many women, I kept making myself smaller and smaller. I was that forgotten chair shoved back against the wall, the painting lost under a pile of sketches, and the cracked teapot gathering fuzz on top of the microwave. I abandoned myself. As I’ve blossomed into my thirties, something has shifted. I’ve realized that I’m no less or more broken than anyone else; playing small doesn’t make the world a better place. If I wait until I’ve got my act together to show up for life, my life won’t count. It’s about taking myself less seriously, bringing a little joy and color to someone else’s day even if I look like an idiot…which I am about to, by the way. Did I mention that I’m going to dress up like a fairy this Saturday and paint little kids’ faces?! I’m occupying my space–saying yes–and hope that you too will occupy and inhabit your world in all its fullness.