John Donne covers the difference between apart and separate in his poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” which I once had by heart but when I rewrote the last line, I figured I’d better return to the source.
This poem came into my mind at Friday’s Clearwater School graduation, which was like an open mike of meditations on community contribution, adulthood, and loss. There was an open mike portion, and I thought about sharing the bit of Mr. Pastille’s 1998 commencement address I used in Friday’s post, but then I lost my internet connection and I used that to keep me (more or less) in the present, listening to others.
Except that I wanted to say something, to contribute on this momentous occasion, even though it was about L, and about G, and about S, the three graduates, not about me. And I knew that as people were talking, more and less articulately, about the upcoming separations and the years of connection, I would be hiding behind another person’s words because I couldn’t find my own.
Getting still more distance, I thought about the difference between gone-gone (dead, or otherwise permanently exiled from another’s life) and not at school any more.
Our two souls therefore, which are one,Though I must go, endure not yetA breach, but an expansion,Like gold to airy thinness beat.
See? I would have said to the people who have spent up to 40 hours a week at the same place as L every school day since fall 2001, I know more about loss than you do because I can quote old poems by this old priest.
Plus, I could see myself getting to the part: “Yet when the other far doth roam / It leans and hearkens after it, / And grows erect, as that comes home,” and giggling.
Every Tupperware container S brought home from his parents’ house after the regular meals he ate there as an adult (Easter, birthday, etc.) had a piece of masking tape on it saying, “Return to Mom.” He took each one of these off before washing the container and taped it to his fridge.
Somewhat ironically, I will now be seeing more of L and liking it a little less, since I work from home and he’ll be sharing the airspace I’ve come to think of as mine. So I’ll be spending less time at home, moving away from him at the same time I’m anticipating his sooner-rather-than-later departure from the house.
Everyone likes my husband. He likes a couple people, and I’m lucky enough to be one of them. He’s not really a misanthrope, but he’s a gregarious introvert. This means that people want to have him around because he’s so much fun, but he, like Greta Garbo, prefers privacy to the spotlight.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder, in this way and others. We tend to be more interested in that which is more distant and unattainable. This explains the pull (in my recent life, at least) toward my father, who I didn’t live with for most of my childhood and whose connection with me felt more avuncular than parental. Whereas my mother, always a presence if not present, has been less my focus since my father’s ultimate illness and death. I have to try to take him in, but she is always within me.
The pushme-pullyou contradictions of my 18-year-old baby making his claim on adult life are with me constantly these days. I want so much more for him, and he will have so much more, and so much less of it will have anything to do with me.
I knew when he was born that the separation was only beginning, and that it would last a long time, as I gave him away from my body again and again. Now I feel it as well.