Heart Rock November 22It has been quiet around here. I’m not really sure why that is. I’ve been busy at work, but that has never stopped me before. When this term began, I intended to make posting about my teaching routine again. When I kept that up, in the old days, it didn’t matter if I felt I had something in particular to say when I started: eventually I would discover what I had to say, because (as I’ve been trying to convince my first-year students) that’s how writing works. My reading hasn’t been going very well, but I used to write about it anyway.

One challenge for me right now, something not directly related to my blogging or teaching or reading and yet maybe essential to them, or to me, to what I can do, is that I am still in what I imagined a year ago (a whole year ago!) as the corridor:

One way I suppose I could think about where I am right now is precisely in a corridor between two blocks, one of them my previous life, which included Owen, and the other my future life, which will go on without him. In a literal sense, of course, I am already in that new life, but it doesn’t feel that way yet: I feel disoriented, adrift, unsettled.

Then, when I was still (to an extent that I didn’t really understand) in the first shock of my loss, I felt the passing of time, and especially the coming of spring, as an offense against my grief. Spring is here again, officially anyway, and though on the surface my life appears much as it did before Owen died, I still have not figured out “how to incorporate his death into my understanding of my life”; although my life continues, I cannot understand or experience it yet as continuous. “Superficially ‘fine,'” as Denise Riley puts it, sixteen months after her own son’s death,

as my daily air of cheerfulness carries me around with an unseen crater blown into my head, the truth is that my thoughts are turned constantly to life and to death; all that I can attentively hold.

Two years after, two and a half years after, three years after, she is still writing her shock: “The severance of a child’s life makes a cut through your own”; “No time at all. No time.” The corridor, it turns out, is long, longer than I could have known, or was willing to know (she tried to tell me) — and now that so much actual time has passed I feel self-conscious, even a bit defensive, that I haven’t emerged from it yet.

It’s not that anybody has said or even implied that I should be “over it” by now, but — rightly, understandably — for most people the urgency of my loss is over, the tide of sympathy and care has receded, new demands and crises and losses have come up. Life goes on, and “how are you doing,” while still a kind question, and sincere, becomes perfunctory, a question I answer in the same spirit, superficially, because what else, really, can I do? If sometimes I’m just going through the motions, well, at least that means I’m moving, and how else can I get to the other end of this corridor, whatever it means, wherever it leads? If I look straight ahead, it’s not so bad, either, although sometimes that’s actually the worst. “There’s no denying,” C. S. Lewis comments in A Grief Observed, “that in some sense ‘I feel better,’ and with that comes at once a sort of shame, and a feeling that one is under a sort of obligation to cherish and foment and prolong one’s unhappiness.” He’s wise about the complexity of that reaction:

We don’t really want grief, in its first agonies, to be prolonged: nobody could. But we want something else of which grief is a frequent symptom, and then we confuse the symptom with the thing itself.

Lewis talks of recurrences and cycles, like Riley seeking to articulate the temporal disruption and disorientation of grief. “Am I going in circles,” he asks, “or dare I hope I am on a spiral?”

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often  — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, ‘I never realized my loss until this moment’? The same leg is cut off time after time. The first plunge of the knife into the flesh is felt again and again. a_grief_observed

When people say “it takes time,” they aren’t thinking about the knife, about the craters. “What a different result one gets by changing the metaphor,” George Eliot says in The Mill on the Floss. At least a corridor connects, rather than severs. Maybe it also shelters, protects, directs.

One book I did finish recently is Stephen Marche’s On Writing and Failure. If it sounds like a discouraging read, well, it is, but it also isn’t, because amidst the real talk and the cynicism there is also sincerity, even conviction. I loved this little passage, which helped me understand why I keep this up (why I want to keep this up):

I do not know who I am writing for, or for what time, or to what purpose. But there is a deep longing in me — and that’s not a lie, not a fraud — to make these words for you. These ephemeral connections are the substance of victory, to belong to a constellation of meanings, to alleviate a specific, miniscule cosmic loneliness. It seems like such a small satisfaction to expend your life on. It isn’t. “You ask, why send my scribbles,” Ovid, in his exile, asked. “Because I want to be with you somehow.” Somehow, anyhow.

I also read a book of poems by Linda Pastan. I especially loved “The Bookstall” (“For life is continuous / as long as they wait / to be read”). Her poem “Yahrzeit Candle” begins “On the second birthday / of your death / nothing / much / has changed.” I’m not there yet. I don’t want to be there. It seems impossibly far off, which is both good and bad, but time passes.

Cold Trees Feb 2 23

7 thoughts on “Corridor

  1. Dirk March 20, 2023 / 10:11 pm

    My father died when I was 4 yrs old. The year was 1945 and he was a pilot in the RCAF serving in England.

    Somewhere between 1991-96, I was reading the column “Lives Lived” in The Globe and Mail, on last page of the first section. The person writing was a psychiatrist in Toronto about the same age as me and he told the story which mirrored mine. His father had died in WWII and he said that there was not one day when he didn’t think about, remember, his dad: any mention of father’s day, his friends telling him that their dads had taken them somewhere, his mother’s wedding anniversary, etc, etc, etc. Always a trigger for the memory.

    I hadn’t realized the same was true for me. Every day. It wasn’t until I was past 60 that there might be a day when I missed thinking about him.

    It was satisfying to know that there was someone else out there who felt the same, that I was not alone.

    It is in sharing words that we gain insight, feel empathy, share the load, with others and ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Patricia March 21, 2023 / 4:19 am

    It must be valid to remember those who have died, especially those who have died before they should. If there is a way to remember the positives, then one should try to think about the good times. It may be trite, but reflecting upon ‘good thoughts’ about relationships is far better than thinking ‘bad thoughts’.

    ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People’ is actually not a poor book, nor a poor read.

    Pleaase keep writing here and elsewhere? As someone once said, ‘Reading good writing makes for writing good reading,’ or some such…

    As for teaching, well, sometimes one makes mistakes, (though you, Rohan, probably rarely do), and other times one knows that one gets it correctly. Been there; done both, often in the same week…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jeanne March 21, 2023 / 9:08 am

    Sorry the corridor is so long and yet it makes sense that a mother would linger there rather than coming out, forgetting too much, getting too far ahead. A friend who lost her husband five years ago just told me that she had a tendency that puzzled her at first, to refuse new experiences, and then she figured out that she was still kind of waiting for the dead husband to catch up, that if she did too much new stuff she felt like he’d have a harder time getting to where she’d gone because she wasn’t waiting for him.
    Ovid’s “why send my scribbles” makes me think of the book about postcards I just read and wrote about. In some ways, every postcard I write is to my parents, who have been gone for years.


    • Rohan Maitzen March 21, 2023 / 1:38 pm

      It is impossible, isn’t it, to imagine willingly letting our children go, or leaving them behind? It’s unnatural. I understand what your friend means. The idea that you are still writing to your parents is very understandable too, and very touching.


  4. Liz March 21, 2023 / 11:59 am

    Oh Rohan, this is beautiful and thoughtful, and it helped me, so thank you for writing it. But it doesn’t need utility to anyone, even you, to be worth writing. In my different kind of grief, I too feel I am in that corridor. Sometimes I think the rest of my life will be lived in the corridor, that there is no other room. Sometimes I feel that I’m opening the door to the new room and looking in. It turns out not to be a straight corridor at all, or I am not walking straight down it. Of course my lost leg is out there walking around attached to another person, which does create a forward push.


    • Rohan Maitzen March 21, 2023 / 1:41 pm

      I suppose it’s fundamental to the whole idea of a corridor that it doesn’t go on forever, except in nightmares. That we can’t see where it ends doesn’t mean it’s endless. (Not to rely too hard on the metaphor, but that’s how we process ideas, we literary types, right?)


  5. Marie-Eve April 4, 2023 / 7:17 pm

    I still think of Owen often and how privileged I feel to have known him throughout high school. Thank you for continuing to share him with the world.


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