Sunday, June 15, 2008

Elephant Man

In my efforts to cope with Pierre's death, I have struggled with metaphors for the thoughts and emotions that I have and feel. Last night I found this analogy and have found the strength to write about it, even if this subject may make readers uncomfortable on this Father's Day. Take some comfort in the fact that I have never taken this day seriously, nor will I allow it now to become a symbol of something it never was. So, on this day, I'll manifest a bit more than the usual sanguinity, if you will. I ask your indulgence or suggest you wait for a more delicate post should this be upsetting.

I feel mutilated, as if a major part of me has suddenly been lopped off.

I have always had a secret fear of mutilation, of losing a finger or an arm, especially in the restaurant business, with so many 'built-in' dangers. I have had some serious cuts, but fortunately, all extremities are still intact. One of the manifestations of fear is to exaggerate the danger to heighten awareness so the threat is overwhelmed. Often this leads mistakes that favor the attacker.

Sometimes I cannot believe that the mutilation is not visible to others. Often I will imagine that it is, and that others are staring at it, or trying not to, looking furtively only when they think I am not looking. But the wound is so sensitive that it can feel the touch of a single eye passing across its brined and twisted surface. This disfiguration is ashamed of itself and seeks to shun the pitiful gaze of the onlooker, if only be cause it knows, as only the horribly ugly can ever know, that others are secretly delighted by the sight.

The horror they think they feel is actually a secret pleasure that begins somewhere in the deep and ancient self-consciousness as a survival mechanism but is, in today's cerebral map, now connected directly with the pleasure centers that are tickled by car wrecks, airplane crashes and other bits of modern devastation that make us say, mentally, 'Thank God that's not me!' I guess to survive we obviously need to avoid mutilation but to know what not to do, we have become fascinated with horrible, unthinkable injury.

And so it is with the death of a child. At least this is how it feels for me. I suppose, when I am able to expand my vision to include those who have suffered a similar loss, I'll begin to express these feelings as somehow universal, but for now, I feel them so intensely as personal that I shall not shrink from expressing them as if I am the first, and only person to go though this sort of unexpected change to my psychic (for want of a better word) self.

Truly, I am closer to the goal than even this suggests, but we are now only in the fourth month since Pierre died, and each time I look in the mirror (ie, these notes and comments) I see that it has indeed healed considerably and is not so horribly disfiguring as I imagined.

One of the things I have thought about for many years has been how I would deal with a disfiguring accident that resulted in the loss of an limb or worse. How would I deal with being in a wheelchair for the rest of my life?
Oh, in this easy world of imaginings, I saw myself as the gracious sort, the one about whom others would say, 'Oh he is so gracious! Even though he's in a wheelchair, he has such a positive attitude!'

Right. I have, of course, spent zero time in a wheelchair, and now feel as if I might be one of those other sorts, who is bitter and resentful of his injury, and scorns the looks and shuns the aid of others who would look or dare to try and help.

Actually I can't imagine being at that end of the spectrum either, so it is likely that I'll manifest some attributes of both these styles, if you will, creating yet another incarnation of myself. Interestingly, though the shape be different, I can't help but feel the same in more ways than I feel changed, causing me to wonder if this injury is not so great as I first thought.

And so it is. I know yet I do not. I feel yet I do not. Each day is new and each has some of the same. Knowing that I am part of the larger cycle is probably the greatest single impact that Pierre's death has had on me.

Oh, I have for many years paid lip-service to this larger whole, but now, as I grow older and with the keen introspection that has come with grief, it actually means something. No longer am I able to turn from it. I must turn toward the light, as it were, and with serious effort, discern what it is illuminating in me.

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