Into the Woods

I’ve felt like a minor character in multiple major and minor tragedies this week, and the playwright has failed to give me the right lines. I might be mistaken in trying to write my own.

I woke up, while home alone, last Thursday to some hideously bad news, that I could not even manage to speak aloud until Sunday, when J.J. returned home from a weekend away. Such a bizarre position produced by the internet, to feel it deeply but not have to speak it. I was in a heck of a state, and yet hung out with a friend, and a dead baby mother, all day Saturday, and didn’t even mention it. Couldn’t. Didn’t know what to do with it. An old blog friend, C., lost her Little Bug at nineteen weeks. C. and I experienced fairly parallel subsequent pregnancies, although our routes to them were different, mine much shorter than hers.

Her M. and my Baby Man were not far apart in due dates, and are roughly three weeks apart in life. Her pregnancy with Little Bug began at a time in another life I would have considered a perfect time to start thinking about another try. “Another life” meaning not just one where Natan hadn’t died, but “another life” being one where other things had fallen into place. I had begun to kind of think of Little Bug as a shadow baby to my figmented one (or two, or three). I really wanted to see C. get to feel her family was complete. I’m so terribly sorry that didn’t happen.

In a mix of tragic serendipity, or just a revelation of how I can make my excuse for productive labor relevant to absolutely everything, I was teaching Thoreau’s Walden this week and couldn’t stop thinking about what it might have to say about this week. I don’t read Walden in the same way as many. I’m sure you all know the story, the author (as Thoreau) goes a mile away from Concord, MA, builds a little cabin and lives there for two years as separate from “society” as he can manage, as he tries to test Emerson’s concepts of self reliance. In the first chapter, “Economy,” he tries to pare down a person’s legitimate needs to the very basics. Using 19th-century science, he lands on just one need: warmth. Warmth, he says is supplied by food, fuel and shelter (in the form of structure or clothing).

He then goes on and on for many pages and chapters, about the complex beauty of the natural world, and all the different ways he sees living beings of all kinds go about securing warmth. The only support he takes from people are very basic, and emerges out of their genuine friendship and affection for him.

Anyway, warmth. At times, if you read other contemporaneous sources, the other human players present in Walden are driven by their desire/need for him to be warm and their concern about his . But they haven’t necessarily figured out what’s required to secure warmth (or don’t see that as enough). In their need to be sufficient, they overdo it sometimes. But they’re compelled to help him.

Fast forward, though, two years into his project. Emerson’s wife asks Thoreau to leave his woodsy home because Emerson is going abroad. She asks him to leave the woods to help her oversee the household. He finds someone who thinks she needs warmth from him and he goes (and please do not take that in any but the most virtuous–read non-adulterous–of ways.) That for me, is one of the major revelations of Walden. The first is that our need to be a part of society is so great, that it very quickly becomes impossible to discern what’s a legitimate way of desiring and expressing support, and what’s in excess. The second, though, being that for the most part (and with notable exceptions), we care for one another, a lot, but don’t necessarily know what we need to do for one another. And have trouble separating our needs from someone else’s.

And most of all, what can we do, when we implicitly recognize there’s really nothing we can do to fix something awful?

I want to give C. warmth, to give her what she needs. But the only thing I can really do is tell her that, or send some tokens. I can’t actually do it

I’m just so damn sorry about that.

3 responses to “Into the Woods

  1. When Alex died, besides the shock and horror, the worst feeling was the alone-ness of it all. Slowly, over the course of several years (and several tragedies), I have found an amazing warmth in the company of you lovely ladies (and a couple men). You have nothing to be sorry for. I would not have made it without you.

  2. I agree: the alone-ness, the emotional and physical isolation… And yet the simple gestures. a note, a call, just “I’m sorry.” I think you probably know it, too.

    My sister lost twins at 18 weeks, four months after my loss. I felt so much at a loss, wishing there was more than “I’m sorry” and “I’m here.” And she said it herself, “There is nothing else to say.”

    Sometimes saying something out loud makes it too real. I can understand waiting for J.J. to be there.

    You are a *good* friend.

  3. I am so sorry for C and the loss of her baby. It’s hardly enough, but it’s all that I have.

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