This spring I’m taking a writing class called “Writing Our Spiritual Lives.” I’m not a religious person, and my spirituality is based on connection — how we are connected as humans, and how we are connected to our environment. Still, as a writer, there’s value in a class that pushes me to think more deeply about this, and that helps provide insight into others’ thinking.
During class we have two short writing exercises. The instructor provides prompts, and off we go, writing as much nonsense or sense as we can in the short time allotted.
Last night’s first prompt was to write about seeing clearly. With only five minutes to frame the prompt, compose a theme, and write, it’s pretty rough stuff. Here’s my take, cleaned up a little but not revised.
It crystallized in those moments, the hate or disdain. I’d had it all wrong. I’d thought of him as an ally. He was not.
“There will be a train wreck,” he warned. It was a train wreck of his own making. His wish to control me, my husband, overwhelmed anything that made sense.
We’d pushed at each other some over the months, but I thought I’d gained his respect. He added me as an editor, congratulated me on my milestone. I thought he was glad to have me around.
Do you remember the old show from the 1960s with Chuck Connors? “Branded.” It was about an Army officer in the Old West who was deemed a coward. Stripped of his epaulets and brass buttons, sabre broken in two, he was sent from the fort with great ceremony, his reputation in tatters.
No ceremony here, but thanks to my enemy — no ally he — I was branded, unceremoniously kicked to the curb. No mystery remained about our relationship. He is my enemy, a man who does not deserve my respect.
The second exercise allowed about fifteen minutes to write. The prompt was to write about grief or suffering.
Pushing my eyes open, the darkness doesn’t change. Enveloping me, painting the room, darkness. I stretch slightly, easing the muscles of my lower back, noticing my toes as they brush the nubby sheet above them. Thick as the darkness is the silence.
No birds sing at this hour. Of course the barred owls could call any time of day. But they are absent, and I note their silence again.
Blinking, the room brightens for me. I can see the contrast between ceiling and wall. I note the soft green glow of the night light in the bathroom. But the silence persists.
I should know the difference by now. Cold silence sounds different from warm. While I know that now, while I am here with you, I do not know it in those waking moments. It is always cold silence, and empty, and alone.
My mind turns to welcoming the girls, calling our son, arranging for music, for a eulogy. I think of how to announce this. Odd how the quiet turns my mind to the noises of comfort. Daughter’s soothing voice, smooth and velvety; Son, stoic, never wordy. I see Jim’s face overlaid on his. I hear Jim’s laughter when he laughs.
The music, blues guitar, some of the favorites. Griz will play, as Jim played most evenings for several years. Only Griz will play better.
I hear the condolences through the silence, including from those who love us and those who have hurt us.
And blinking again, I can see the light beginning to peek through curtain edges. I shift again a little. The warm silence breaks. Jim stretches and turns. My grief, objective as it was, ends. And we reach for each other under the sheets.