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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Finding a metaphor...

"I went outside onto my parents' porch without putting my coat on. The limp winter sun sparkled off the frozen snow on the lawn. "Please take good care of my mother," I said to the air. I addressed the fir tree she loved and the wind moving in it. "Please keep her safe for me."

This is what a friend of mine—let's call her Rose—calls "finding a metaphor." I was visiting her a few weeks ago in California; we stayed up late, drinking lemon-ginger tea and talking about the difficulty of grieving, its odd jags of ecstasy and pain. Her father died several years ago, and it was easy to speak with her: She was in what more than one acquaintance who's lost a parent has now referred to as "the club." It's not a club any of us wished to join, but I, for one, am glad it exists. It makes mourning less lonely. I told Rose how I envied my Jewish friends the reassuring ritual of saying kaddish. She talked about the hodge-podge of traditions she had embraced in the midst of her grief. And then she asked me, "Have you found a metaphor?"[...]

The truth is, I need to experience my mother's presence in the world around me and not just in my head. Every now and then, I see a tree shift in the wind and its bend has, to my eye, a distinctly maternal cast. For me, my metaphor is—as all good metaphors ought to be—a persuasive transformation. In these moments, I do not say to myself that my mother is like the wind; I think she is the wind. I feel her: there, and there. One sad day, I actually sat up in shock when I felt my mother come shake me out of a pervasive fearfulness that was making it hard for me to read or get on subways. Whether it was the ghostly flicker of my synapses, or an actual ghostly flicker of her spirit, I don't know. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping it was the latter."