The Sweetness of Leaving

Yesterday I did a short two-mile run on an absolutely perfect day that was sunny and cool. I’m still feeling the disconnection from civilization that was brought on the other day, and found a hidden trail jaunting into the very green spring foliage, making me feel better, but I am also affirmed by many individuals just the same. I just finished reading The Mercy Journals, by Claudia Casper, whom I met a couple weeks ago at Pat’s Pub on the lower east side. Because of the impact of her novel, I am listening to Judy Collins’ Send in the Clowns. Read the book. You’ll understand the reference to the song. Here is what I wrote about her novel: “It offers a view into the near future after climate change results in a far different world than the one we know today, a world in which a Mexican border horror wall comes alive, a world in which the surreal, bizarre, and beautiful begin to triumph via character redemption and hope.”


At the same time the author and I have been emailing and will be embarking on a couple projects together. She’s truly a warm individual. I could tell, by the mingling of the crowd at her launch, the hugs, the soft smiles, the music, that she and her writing are very loved. The impact that The Mercy Journals had on me is very real.

I don’t think it’s depression I have been feeling but a gripping realization of a changing planet–one that hardly anyone talks about on a day-to-day basis unless you’re in the circle of those who are actually writing or thinking about it, which is rare. It sometimes feels hopeless gazing it in the face. I tell you, it does not help that someone like Donald Trump has the potential to become leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world. It’s so bizarre and surreal to me that the potential is there, and if it happens–and even if it doesn’t–we’re kind of on a collision course because he and his crowd don’t even believe climate change is real and the whole nutty millions of followers are full of hate and fear, which will spark some pretty Bad Things. Claudia forewarns this in The Mercy Journals, by making real the Mexican border wall and the horrors it will bring. I can still see tumbleweed and children and adults blowing forward under bizarre light through gunned holes in the wall, all for water. I can’t say more for fear of spoiling the novel.

How to continue to cope with this feeling of wanting to be away from culture and rely more on nature? It’s not a new feeling. It’s an evolving feeling. I think of bad things that have happened to me, certainly not comparable to those in fiction I’ve read or written–but we all experience difficulties and horrors to a degree, perhaps not as harsh as those in dystopian universes, or perhaps they are for some. I have been fortunate to have had a good life so far. I had some struggles when younger, but like my dad always said, “You’re tough, and this will make you even stronger.”

In a recent interview with poet Lorna Crozier, we talked about the loneliness that comes with growing older. In the intro to The Wild in You, she said it wasn’t just from watching loved ones go away: “It’s the loneliness that comes from wiping out of songbirds, salmon runs, and old-growth forests. It comes from trophy bear hunting…” This is the current aloneness I feel, which really is a separate issue from the full life and few close relationships I do have. It’s not feeling lonely in life; it’s feeling disconnected from a world that chooses constant growth and destruction of natural resources, which is, it seems, the majority of the world. We don’t have to bust out of our seams to be happy. It is the sadness that the wild places and wild life are becoming extinct.

When Dad died, I created a video of his life, our family, and put it all to music. I had had the experience of watching him die–not the day of his death–but the years leading up to it, the last couple of which I went home to help for a few months each year. Dad was in excruciating pain all the time. He had lost most of his abilities to think or speak. He could no longer see well, feed himself, or do most other essential human functions. Mom and I fed him meals every day and helped get him back to his nursing home bed, which meant we would lift him up from his wheelchair and do our best to carefully put him in his twin bed, where his frail body seemed impossible. We did this because it hurt him to sit up for too long and the nursing home staff never had time to get him back to bed soon enough. Yet, he had these days where good moments would happen. He often wanted to be wheeled outside. I remember once, in early summer, about half a year before he passed away, when all the blooms were out, we took him out to the patio of the nursing home, which was part of the vast, fertile Indiana landscape, and close up were flowers and trees. He said very clearly, “I can see the deep crimson, the violet hues…” I remember he saw the sweetness in leaving. He had some good moments even then. And because that was who he had been the rest of his life when feeling better, I chose to honor him in that way when he died. One of the songs I chose to accompany this stream of photos at his funeral was Calling All Angels by Jane Siberry and KD Lang.

Because that was dad. Part of the song lyrics are:

A man is placed upon the steps and a baby cries
High above you can hear the church bells start to ring
And as the heaviness, oh, the heaviness, the body settles in
Somewhere you can hear a mother sing

Then it’s one foot, then the other as you step out on the road
Step out on the road, how much weight, how much?
Then it’s how long and how far and how many times
Oh, before it’s too late?

Oh, and every day you gaze upon the sunset with such love and intensity
It’s ah, it’s almost as if you could only crack the code then you’d finally understand
What this all means

Oh, but if you could, do you think you would trade in all
All the pain and suffering?
Oh, but then you’d miss the beauty of the light upon this earth
And the, and the sweetness of the leaving

These days the only ways to cope, if you pay any attention to our current extinctions and are moved by the mystery of whether humans will survive it all, you have to pay attention to the sweetness along the way. If all we leave behind are sweet moments that punctuate the other horrors, then perhaps we will have meant something. I find this sweetness in reading fiction that brings to front and center our very humanity and lights that candle in the darkness. I find this sweetness in being with those who I love and who love me. I find it in leaving the rest of the world behind, even if it means pushing my struggling body to run on the most hidden and magical trails that lead into the wild.

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