About Me

My photo
Washington, DC, United States
I don't write here nearly as much as I should, but when I do, I'll try to make it count for something.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Love and Survival

Sometimes the best inspiration for writing a new blog post is reading another blog which hits you in all the right spots. This happened to me recently when a dear friend of mine wrote this and it really connected with me. The power of the written word is something else. I’ve been writing a lot lately, short stories and letters and journal entries. It’s been really therapeutic and while a lot of these things will probably never be shared with the general public (sorry, readers), they have really helped me to grasp some perspective about my life right now.

The fact is this: I’ve been feeling fairly self-pitying lately but I’ve been trying to cover it up with a thin layer of bravado and comic relief. That’s kind of my MO – don’t feel things completely. Put on a happy face and shimmy around the house to some big band tunes and forget your woes. Buy things that make you happy (even if you can’t afford them). Watch a lot of TV and read a lot of books and get lost in the fantastical. Go for long walks on the beach with your dog – staying up late enough to see the sunrise and making sure you catch the sunset as well. Find complicated recipes to try out. Hang out with your friends and stay distracted – always stay distracted.

But eventually… eventually you have to stop moving. Eventually you have to look life right in the face and deal with what it’s giving you. Eventually you have to stop the smiling and the laughing and the dancing and the strolling. Eventually you can’t run anymore. I’ve never been good at that bit – the stopping and the dealing. The consequences for this flaw are varied – but whatever the results have been, they’ve rarely been good.

So here I am. Staring into the eye of the storm. Forcing myself to stop and letting it sweep me away. But really, who’s to say that’s a bad thing?

I’m going to be really nerdy for a second but bear with me and I’ll try to make sense of it all.

Recently, as a means to distract myself (please note above section of post), I have been watching a lot of a little show you may have heard of – Doctor Who. I had never watched this show before now. I’d resisted it for a long time for a number of unimportant reasons but then finally decided to give it a chance because there were enough episodes to keep me occupied for a while and because it seemed like a complete farce and I am a huge fan of escapism, especially in times of distress. Now, that being said, I took to this show quickly and completely. At first I thought it was just because, as previously stated, I’m pretty nerdy and this sort of thing tends to appeal to me. I mean, two of my favorite shows in the world are Battlestar Galactica and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Doctor Who, I figured, should be right up my alley.

I breezed through the first four series (and I mean starting when it was brought back in 2005 – none of that crazy quirky overly British stuff from the 70s) and I was utterly captivated. Every episode kept me not only on the edge of my seat, but touched that part of me – the part I know that I get from my dad – with an itch to just…. fly away to somewhere new. (Also, David Tennant is a complete babe, so there’s that.)

However, the more I watched, the more I realized that there had to be something else that I was connecting to. I mean, I tend to get obsessed with shows sometimes for reasons no deeper than pure entertainment value (New Girl, I’m looking at you) but there was something different here. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it for a while but eventually it hit me: somewhere between the third and fourth series, I realized that the recurring theme of humanity’s continued crazy impossible absolutely mad ability to survive despite everything standing against them… there was something beautiful in that. Sometimes the need to survive brings out the worst in us – an ugly side that this show does not shy away from – but the instinct itself isn’t evil. It’s just who we are if you strip everything else away, if you break us down to the most basic part of ourselves. We survive when we shouldn’t. I think of things like the Crusades, the Holocaust, the atrocities in Sierra Leone, the Civil War – and it amazes me how despite everything that human beings are put through (and put themselves through), they just keep going. Isn’t that something? Isn’t that maddening? The resilience of the human spirit is probably the most awesome thing I can think of.

I suppose all this got me thinking about what it means to be human and the legacies that we leave behind. My mom has been emailing me a lot recently about our ancestors and our family’s history and it’s been great learning about my mom’s house (outside of Florence, in Stia) and how it was built by my ancestors in the early 1800s, by three brothers who had lost so much of their family and friends to the Black Death. They had survived but then what? What would be their mark in the world? That house – and after about two hundred years, it’s still standing. It’s still surviving.

And really this all comes down to the one thing that keeps floating in my mind over the last couple of years: how do we continue to survive when our bodies give out on us, when our souls are gone? I guess I’m getting a little existential here; I hope you can forgive me. It’s hard not to get lost in spiritual complexities when death is literally following you everywhere you go. I just can’t help but wonder what it all means and how it all matters and if parts of ourselves really stay behind when we appear to vanish.

I have to be honest here and I hope that people don’t get terribly offended when I say this but I do think there is a good chunk of the population that wants to have kids because they feel like if they have a physical piece of themselves in the world, they’ve left a contribution that will continue through time forever. Something about that has always seemed kind of disturbing to me but I guess it just keeps going back to that natural instinct… to keep surviving in one way or another. But in what other ways can we do this, as a species, as communities, as soul-bearing vessels? I think it’s more than leaving patches of DNA behind. I think it’s the non-physical imprints that we leave behind that truly stand the test of time. That first smell of Autumn – like… woodchips and cinnamon… that smell will always make me think of fall trips to the Cape with my dad and collecting leaves of red and orange and my mom’s fresh baked biscotti with vanilla-laced hot chocolate. Otis Redding is wonderful in so many ways but I love him as much as I do partially because listening to his music takes me back to a time when my parents were happy and danced in the kitchen while my mom was baking ziti and filling the house with warmth. There are a million other examples and I guess my point is… we never really leave, not completely. Parts of us continue to survive, in the way that we love and care for each other and create memories even when we don’t even realize those memories are happening. Our ability to love – that’s what makes us amazing creatures. Love and survival and connecting to one another. Even when we’re gone, our imprints remain forever – it is borderline magical. It’s magnificent. It’s awe inspiring.

And yes, my friends – these are thoughts that have come to me thanks to Doctor Who so I guess I owe the creators of that show a debt of gratitude!

Essentially, it’s nice to know that when our bodies go – as well as the bodies of our loved ones – and it feels like we have nothing left to hold on to… there are pieces that will stick around even if we can’t always feel it. Sometimes in tiny drops. Sometimes it’ll come in waves. But it’s always there, underneath the surface. So today, it’s okay to face the storm and feel the pain and the sorrow and the anger and the indignity of it all because who knows when the next wave of joy and beauty will overtake us? Could be tomorrow so we have to keep on moving until we meet that wave again – and survive another day, and maybe create a few more memories to leave behind.