Sunday, April 8, 2012

Holiday Joy and The Empty Chair(s)

I was missing in action for a while there.  I did show up for scheduled things.  I only missed one exercise session.  I told a six minute story in my second invited show - among people with a lot of credits - and was told I did very well.  It's hard for me to judge myself in those things.  I took a student from Rosie's Theater Kids to a tech rehearsal of a Broadway play.  Rosie's Theater Kids is a great organization that not only provides children with lessons in things like singing and dancing - but supports them academically and in all areas of their lives.  My daughter and grandbaby arrived on Friday. I did other things as well. I'm saying all this not to brag on myself but to say that showing up for those things made me feel a lot more like a person than if I had given in to my other self and stayed curled up in bed.  

I got an e-mail from someone saying she felt like she was on auto pilot; that she was fighting her way out of a bad emotional space.  Sometimes it feels that Artie's death saps both my energy and my desire.  In those times I do my best to do at least one thing a day.  I also have a rule I can only stay in the house one day in a row - even if I just go out to do an errand.  It's been that kind of time right now. I'm sorry one thing I let slip was writing the blog.

Oh yeah - I got my taxes done too!  I guess showing up is about fun things and about being responsible.

For many people this is an important holiday weekend.  Passover and Easter.  It's spring as well.  Rebirth, freedom. Family.  I wanted to write something upbeat and cheery; all about bunnies and matzoh - about new life after death.  All that is true.  That's the most important thing we can do.  Take our pain and keep figuring out creative ways to have it generate new life in ourself and for ourself.  You don't have to believe in life after death to let the love you have be a springboard for all good things. 

Yet, there is always the empty chair - or chairs.  It is a Jewish tradition to set a place at the table for the prophet Elijah - fill his glass with wine - and leave the door open to allow him to come in to announce the coming of the Messiah.  Christians, of course believe that the Messiah has come - Jesus.  Some people don't believe in a Messiah - or that the Messiah is somehow within ourselves.  The important image to me is that even though, year after year, Elijah doesn't come, Jewish people throughout time and history continue to keep his chair waiting and his glass filled.  They continue to keep the door open.  Someone called Artie my "late husband".  I laughed.  No one had ever used that expression with me before.  It seemed so silly.  I looked at my wrist where a watch would be and said, "He is late.  He's always late.  In fact, he's so late I don't think he's going to show up at all."  He can't show up physically and yet he is there for me spiritually - in my mind and my heart.  In reality?  That's the secret no one knows.  I always have a chair for him.  Not an actual chair these days, but a place. 

When he first died, before I moved, couples we had eaten with would take me out to dinner.  Three people at a table for four.  Then the empty chair was huge and painful.   Now the empty chair is a mix of many emotions.  I am so lucky that I had that chair filled with so much joy for so long.  I have so many lessons and memories and love from the man who sat in that chair - who lay in our bed - who was by my side no matter where we were.  If I was in Timbuktu (and I did go to Timbuktu - it's in Mali on the west coast of Africa) and he stayed in California because he hated to travel we were still side by side.  Now that he is wherever people go when they die, I need to remember that we are still side by side.  Sometimes I can't...but sometimes I quite gloriously can.

I was worried when my daughter and grandbaby arrived I wouldn't have any room for them.  I was afraid my sadness would crowd them out.  (I'm sorry, so sorry if it is a child or a grandchild that has died in your life.)  It didn't.  Gwendy blue eyes pushes at that sadness with her little hands.  She smiles and it breaks the sadness apart. My daughter is a recovering crystal meth addict and is almost 6 years sober. I am so proud of her.  She is a great mom.  As a single parent it all falls on her but she is loving and fierce and puts Gwendy's needs ahead of her own. 

I find myself looking, this holiday weekend, through Gwendy's almost four month old eyes.  So much to learn.  Something simple like grabbing a toy and getting it into her mouth.  Something warm, like how she feels curled up on my lap.  Something amazing, like when I say "I love you." and she smiles.  Grandpa Artie can't hold her but I can.  I can make him a big part of her life with stories and pictures.  I can tell her how much he loves her from wherever he is.  All she wants and needs is to be fed and clean and loved and safe.  I love her being so little.  I get to protect her now.  All that love and yet sometimes she cries and cries.  Even when you're a tiny baby laughing and crying are both part of being human.

Life is meant to go on.  Our choice is whether we join in or not.  Sometimes it doesn't feel like a choice.  It is though.  I hope that whatever you are are doing this weekend - every weekend - every day - you have lots of moments where you are flowing in the stream of your life.  I hope, no matter how many empty chairs are at your table, you find them full of the sight and sound and smell and feel of the people who once sat in them.  Echoes of past conversations, jokes, wisdom mixed with present laughter and hope.  There's time for crying but there's time for other things as well.  We are a small family - three generations - myself - my daughter - my granddaughter. We are going to have a little picnic in Central Park.  I've always wanted to be part of a large family - but how lucky I am to have my small one.

I hope to be writing more often.  I always manage in the midst of everything to hope.  With love.  xo

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