the gossamer veil
I remember standing in the window of our new bedroom, staring out across lush green trees to glimpse the sparkling lake across the street. The clouds were cream and billowy in the sweet blue sky, and I caught my breath to think I could wake up to such loveliness every morning.
And then I remembered.
That a friend was going into labor that same morning to deliver a baby who would not live through the day.
I pressed my forehead against the glass and tried to hold together the tension of a world where such a perfect clear morning would welcome such pain. It has been ever thus, that life and death dance hand in hand, but we do our best to ignore it, lest our brains explode at the overload of our own mortality.
We do not want to lift the veil.
. . .
One week I’m stocking up on Saltines and Gatorade for the nausea already rising in my belly.
The next week I trudge slowly up the Walgreens aisle, hospital bracelet still circled round my wrist, and set the unwanted supplies silently on the counter. The cheerful clerk rings up the transaction without seeing the robotic stare in my eyes.
“Have a wonderful night!” she wishes me on my way. A bitter laugh catches in my throat as I move towards the door that automatically slides open in front of me.
It has been one of the worst days of my life.
I join him at the restaurant counter, still waiting for our take-out twenty minutes later, standing with my same empty zombie stance, what to do with these helpless limbs that cannot save what hurts us most. Any other evening such a long wait would have annoyed us, rolled eyes and whispered sarcasm. But tonight we barely know to care.
I look around at the strangers ordering their pasta, zipping paper off their straws, texting while they wait for friends to park the car – and I envy them their normalcy, their ordinary day, how they can stand on two feet without feeling like they need a wall to hold them up and how nothing – no one – has died inside them today. I long with every cell in my body to flip the calendar forward or back to a time when I could cruise through suburban shopping centers wondering where we should eat dinner and not wondering how the world dares to continue while death stands so close, breathing down our necks though we barely notice.
. . .
What do you write when the words run out? Or rather, when the words you never wanted to share were the same ones that brought warm meals and sweet flowers to your doorstep, that filled your phone and flooded your inbox, that spilled forth long-distance love and shared stories you never knew, that sparked so much sympathy from strangers-turned-friends?
Maybe you trust your own words, dig through the thousands you spill each day to find the ones that really matter – I wonder how we go on. But I know that we go on. And you remember to trust the truer words, the scripture and the poetry and the promises that we place upon our hearts so that, as the rabbi’s story goes, when our hearts finally break open the words fall inside.
And you look out the same window where you prayed that friend through her worst day and you spy your babies running barefoot through the lush grass below and you catch the lump in your throat wondering whether you want too much by wanting more, wishing everything could have been complete with only two but knowing that your soul keeps singing a stubborn soft psalm for something more.
And you go about your day – the Target and the Walgreens and the email and the laundry – and every time you remember the emptiness inside, you wish you could leap up and tug back down that gossamer veil, grab it with both hands and nail it to the floor so that illusion and innocence could float easy around you once again.
But you know once the veil has lifted nothing can ever be the same. You understand why revelation and apocalypse draw from this same dread, this shimmering veil that draws back to show how close death dances to our living, the thin separation that never falls the same once parted.
No matter how much you want to yank yesterday back into your hands.
. . .
There will come a day when I don’t think about it immediately upon waking, while I blink to reorient myself with the dawn. When the words I should be pregnant or we lost a baby don’t stream through my head while I wash breakfast dishes. There will be school runs and work meetings and yard work and weekend projects, and the world will settle back into the boring where we can function unthinking.
The morning after that day, the unthinking day, I will feel both sad and grateful. Weepy that the grieving is moving on and thankful that things are becoming everyday again. I will hug the boys tighter and they will squirm away with smiles and we will keep plodding on with the holy ordinary of living.
But somewhere the veil will be lifting for someone I love. It has been ever thus, that life and death dance hand in hand. And maybe the only true and faithful way to go on is to go through – not to deny one ounce of emotion but to promise to feel it all, to honor how this has changed me, will continue to change me, will never be a smoothed healing but a small scarring that shapes who I am and what I become.
Maybe this is how the veil becomes not a heavy shroud but a soft scarf, a warm protection against the bite of wind, a swath of beauty in a world too ugly, a burst of color in a bland of grey.
Maybe this is how we carry loss with us. Close to the skin, and brave enough for others to see.