A contradiction? Maybe. But if it was easy to be relaxed on this world full of so many shocks and losses, we’d all do it, wouldn’t we?
My best friend recently lost her dad. Out of nowhere, totally unexpectedly. He could have, should have had twenty more good years at least. In fact, his mama had died just a few months earlier. His granddaughters were at a really cute age, and he was crazy about them, and the feeling was mutual. He was one of the coolest grown-ups I knew as a kid. A liberal in a sea of conservatives who was nonetheless loved by everyone, a professional carpenter and amateur fireworks enthusiast, and he showed me Jupiter and its four tiny pinprick moons through his backyard telescope.
It wasn’t common to find something like that in my tiny Oklahoma home town. He helped my best friend become the awesome person she is, and she helped shape me in so many ways. I don’t know if I would have survived my childhood without her.
The loss was absolutely gutting.
And then this week my step-dad’s mom passed away. She was so crazy about her great-grandsons, my brother’s boys, and it’s so sad to me that she’ll never know my kids, if I ever have them.
I was texting with my best friend today about how brave it is to love anyone, knowing what might — in fact, what eventually will — happen. It’s part of the reason I was so terrified of getting married. How could I possibly entwine my life so deeply with someone, knowing one of us might bail at any moment through no fault of our own, leaving the other without us to help them get through it? There’s no good time for that to happen, whether you’ve been married four year, forty years, or sixty-five.
But of course, what’s the alternative? “I am a rock. I am an island.” No. That’s just pre-emptively giving up. That’s robbing people of your love so they’ll never lose it, and robbing yourself of it so you’ll never lose it. Objectively, that is a net loss. The eventual loss hurts, but it doesn’t negate what was good. My best friend’s dad’s grandkids don’t have their grandpa anymore, but they have their own beautiful little lives enriched in so many ways through him directly when he was here and through the many people influenced by him.
Of course, he should still be here. And it hurts to feel that this gift has been withheld, even as the reason it hurts so much is because the original gift was such a good one.
As Khalil Gibran wrote:
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping
for that which has been your delight.
It’s the most basic truth, isn’t it? We wouldn’t be sad if the person we lost didn’t mean so much to us. There’s be no loss if there hadn’t been such an extraordinary gift in the first place.
Everything — everything — is fundamentally a gift. None of it is owed to us.
I wrote a somewhat more cynical poem in my effusively exploratory twenties:
I don’t believe in hate.
I don’t believe in hell.
There’s only love,
And fear of loss,
And that works just as well.
This is also true, I think. Where does hate come from? Usually from a fear of loss of loved ones, loss of freedom, loss of ego… And what is hell but living a life full of hatred?
The message is to try to get away from those fears. To understand that everything is only temporary and live as well as you can with that. Because turning your love into fear and your fear into hate only tarnishes what could otherwise have been some incredible gifts.
So how do I think about all this in terms of fertility struggles? After all, there is no gift in this case, I mean not fundamentally. This is fundamentally about something not happening that you want to happen. It’s about the non-existence of people you believe should exist. There’s no ritual to mark their passing because they never existed in the first place. The upsides are things like lessons and perspective which, while valuable, can’t really compare to cuddles with your own child. And you find yourself going through the stages of grief over and over and over again instead of just once.
I’m not trying to compare different kinds of hardships as better or worse, but just musing out loud about how they are similar and different. I’m still not sure how to mourn people who never (or barely) were. Still working through how to relax when every sinew of my body is stretched under the strain of striving for one goal (which is so mundanely easy for most to achieve).
As I’ve said, I’ve been reasonably proud of myself in the past few years for living reasonably well despite it all. But I never imagined this dragging out for almost four years (so far). It’s kind of breathtaking when I think about it too much. Others have certainly had it worse, and to them I can only tip my hat in silent respect. But this is pretty high up on the curve of how bad it can get. If I had had any idea four years ago that this would be my life right now, I don’t know how I could have handled it.
But here I am. And whether it’s two, four, six, or ten years in this particular limbo, and whatever loss or never-got you’re dealing with, the lessons are the same if you can learn them.
The universe is absolutely overloaded with blessings — gifts. But we humans don’t always have a ton of control over how and when and for how long we get them. We should be grateful for any good thing that comes our way and patiently accepting of whatever does not come our way or departs from us. Because it was a gift in the first place. It’s not like we can expect anything. We are not entitled to any of these gifts. When they come, it’s pure generosity. Pure gravy.
Even the fact that humans can have kids, and love kids, and receive love and laughter and cuddles from kids — I mean, this wonderful arrangement didn’t have to be the case. The fact that I have even a hope of it is a miracle.
Heh. But then you see everyone around you getting this miracle without a second thought and it’s hard not to feel like you’re in middle school again, and everyone else got picked but you. It’s hard not to see this thing so achingly close, so achingly natural, so deeply wanted, and be frustrated over and over and over again. There has never been a shadow of a doubt in my mind that I want to be a mother. My husband feels the same.
Yet here we are.
We will be parents. One way or another, it will happen. This, too, shall pass. But it’s so much harder than I could have imagined. Having children is simply one of the most consequential and life-changing events there is. And the universe withholding that one — it’s bitter.
It’s also (sigh) a chance to learn as deeply as you will ever learn that the universe doesn’t owe you anything. And that doesn’t mean the universe is bad. It just means things are set up in a way that not everyone gets everything they want all the time. If they did it would just be paradise, and apparently the universe wanted to make things a little more interesting on this spinning space rock.
All in all, other than this bitter pill, I do have a charmed and beautiful life. It’s funny how having one thing denied to you can make everything else seem pale and hollow. And it’s easy to say that’s childish (probably because it is). But at the same time, you can’t exactly compare being a parent to getting that Nintendo you wanted as a kid. Right?
So here I am clawing my way out of another mild depressing tinged with frenzied denial to peek up into the sun and keep walking along as best I can, a bit bored of this treacherous landscape and hoping there aren’t too many of this particular kind of trap up ahead and occasionally envisioning what victory and that next landscape might be like, all the while knowing every victory is temporary and can be undone at any moment.
This life, man. It is beautiful. But it is not for the faint of heart.