Learning to Love the Gerund
Learning to Love the Gerund
It ever was, and is, and shall be, ever-living fire, in measures being kindled
and in measures going out.
I sometimes sit in a public place or stare out the bus window, observing closely someone walking by, putting one foot in front of the other. I am, at once, amazed and reminded of my own humanity, how I, myself, am getting there in small steps, daily increments, but also how it’s taking me a long time to accept one of my mantras, that always life begins again. One foot in front of the other. Simple but never easy. Two decades after my first husband ended his own life and close to one decade since I ended my second marriage after discovering infidelity, simple life observations connect me to salvation. And I am, again, astounded by the comprehension that I’m not alone, not the least bit extraordinary in this need to embrace my trauma, sadness, anger, grief, the loss and endless questioning. With such insight, I’ve come to love the gerund, that verb form I once found distasteful, the one I would tell my composition students to avoid. Get rid of the –ing, I used to caution them.
We often teach what it is we ourselves need to learn most.
Life is cruel. Life is absurd. Especially when it comes to death.
Life can turn without presage into a twisted board game, strangers at the door with a note you couldn’t have concocted in your wildest dreams or a distant voice on the other end of a phone telling you something you don’t want to hear, projections that suddenly become your own. Life can morph in a split second from calm to raging current, causing it passengers to capsize, dragging us down, even threatening to drown us…always prodding us with that age-old dare…go with the flow. Yes, it’s tough to be human sometimes. Most times. In the best and worst of times.
In my own process of teaching and writing and remembering—three gerunds joined hand-in-hand, literally, through what Wallace Stevens calls that “palm at the end of the mind”—I’ve gleaned understanding that living fully is about being real no matter how that feels. I’ve discovered through everyday struggles, as we all may do, that there is happiness—or at least contentment—in the very essence of the here and now, not in the past nor in the future, but—as the metaphysical theory of Heraclitus implies—in the moments of becoming. Change is the only constant. With this understanding, after many years—as garnered through the life experiences and blind circumstances in these pages—I’m just beginning to wrestle with a penchant for running. Always toward or away from something. I’m on the cusp of finally being able to cultivating that other voice, the one that says, it’s okay to be doing nothing. Sit. Be still.
I’m hoping that you, reader, will relate readily, see yourself in the pages to come. Consider my stories self-help of sorts—yours and mine. Here, in Rabbit Tales, through camaraderie and commiseration, living firsthand the craziness of my own attempts at survival and mishaps in the search for contentment, may you gather courage for your own daily auditions and life performances. May this, my simple act of sharing these personal tales and snippets from journal entries and cards that begin and end with love always to and from me—the girlfriend, lover, wife, and mother my late husband called Rabbit—be the balm for whatever wounds you. May these stories of my sometimes pathological endeavors to survive remind you that, whatever has befallen you, whatever your briar patch and in the face of shaken faith, eventually, somehow, somewhere, you, too, will be O.K.—as Peter wrote to us, family, Jenny, Alex, Olivia, Luke + Hunter in his suicide note—with or without whatever it is you’ve lost or gained.
Living is learning. Dying is, well, dead and gone, at least in this lifetime. Forgiving is a way to move forward and keep going on.
We can only figure it out as we go, try to remain in one place, to reside in the very emotions that stab us, resist the knee-jerk reaction to push the most distressing memories and painful feelings away, or even worse, back down inside. I keep telling myself that, in choosing to live, one must let what burns inside kindle itself, rise to the surface, and dwell in consciousness. One must remain open to the little perks popping out of nowhere from a place least expected. Be okay with being, not lonely, but alone. Be truthful. Get real, I’ll tell myself. But even more so, be real, which takes time and, yes, staying power, what the Buddhists call shenpa.
And still, I can’t resist the movement, even the slightest swivel of my body—like the swaying back and forth I used to do when pregnant or holding one of my four babies—as life keeps going, spinning all around me. I’m trying, a lifelong endeavor for sure, to accept each moment of being as, at once, continuity and change, harboring the difference between being and becoming—a debate older than Plato. My conclusion, at least for now, is that being is becoming. Stasis and motion—simultaneously. The trick to not letting adversity win is strong footing in the sometimes babbling, other times raging stream of life’s continuous momentum. The test is to grasp reality and fight the urge to run away or, often worse, that often futile attempt at total control.
This, I am learning not only from what I experience daily but from what I remember. Enduring the hard knocks necessitates recalling those soft moments of sustenance, the sentiment, I love you, Rabbit, that continues to weave itself through my life tales. This need I have, don’t we all, really, to syncopate past with present—and future.
What choice do I have, I used to ask myself regularly, but to be strong?
With each life occurrence—each stumble and fall—we must lift ourselves up, and hold steady. This, I am learning, to trust what I know and accept even what is false—blindness, just one, yet my greatest tragic flaw. From trauma, heartbreak, disappointment, mess-ups, and even those little boo-boos of life, I’m always recovering. And that, in this simple –ing verb, in many of life’s gerunds, I’m not alone. Because in waking and walking through each day, we all face a recurring challenge: To find that balance between the searching and letting go, to know when and how to stay and when it’s time to go forward, to embrace the predominant emotions of love and fear in our living and our dying, suddenly or daily, always in our being and becoming real.