My friend Marci posted a link on FB to an NPR story about Joan Didion’s latest book, Blue Nights, in which she writes about the death of her daughter. (I reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking some time back.)
Marci was startled into awareness by this quote in the story:
Didion writes that in theory, these mementos should bring back the moment, but in fact, they only make clear how inadequately she appreciated the moment back when it happened.
I am certain that, had I heard the story, it would have been the money quote for me as well.
Part of my impulse to explore Sabbath is to try and cheat time, in a sense—to slow it down to the speed of savoring, just one day a week, by not having to be anywhere, do anything, prove myself, develop skills, inculcate kids, bring order to chaos. Sabbath has been an exercise in mindfulness and awareness—the kind of mindfulness Didion grieves the lack of as she beholds touchstone objects from the past. My Memory Project, too, has been a way of capturing on paper the essence of these days.
I was thinking about all this today, as James played on a church playground with Margaret while Caroline rehearsed with her children’s choir inside. The world was washed with gold as the sun receded, and I knew that in a week, this hour of the day would be blue-black and cold.
I found myself watching them with love, recording the scene as fully as I could, just as an exercise. One of the things that drives me, in parenthood and life, is not wanting to have the experience Didion describes, a wistful, heartbreaking “I missed it.”
But I realized today, I will have that experience; indeed, there is no way not to. Every day is full of golden moments. You simply cannot hold on to them all. You can’t even hold on to a fraction of them. They are too numerous, growing in number constantly. And they are simultaneously too precious to record in our memory banks adequately, and too quotidian to register as something to remember.
When loss comes to us, we will never feel we have appreciated the moment enough. That’s what grief is.
Didion’s experience is not a call to intentionality for the rest of us, although I am a big believer in intentionality. Rather, what she describes is an inevitable by-product of love and death. There is no remedy for what she describes in her book, no amount of intentionality or mindfulness that will keep us from the same fate.
I found this amazingly freeing.