One of my juniors, a quiet, swimmer's-shouldered, sensitive gem of a girl, waited after class to talk to me. Yesterday she had come to me at lunch to ask how to apologize to her sister, who didn't want an apology. When my student started crying in the middle of class, perhaps a half hour later, I thought it might have something to do with that. She was still listening to me talk about the book we were analyzing, nodding at me as she does, but her eyes were pale red and filled with tears that never seemed to fall. Filled is a common figure of speech, but I mean it literally.
She told me today what I had already partially heard from a co-worker: this student's friend, a boy at another high school, is very suddenly dying of bone cancer. She got a text in my class yesterday, from her mother, saying that he was in his last hours.
My student told me this, her eyes again awash with tears, and I told her I'd heard and that she could have left my class if she'd needed to cry, that she should let me know if I can do anything. She approached me without a word and hugged me, just briefly, and left.
The weight hit me, then. I remembered that my aunt, my favorite aunt, went in for a lumpectomy this morning, and I had no idea how it had gone. And I realized that I have been talking of nothing but death for the last four days: death in the form of the little boy, kissing the pomegranates when the bomb dropped, in my juniors' novel Black Rain; Macbeth killing Duncan with my sophomores; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern dying, not dying, perhaps dying, with my seniors; Christina Green, the nine-year-old shot this weekend, whose funeral was today, and whom I tied to the boy in the book when it came time to discuss why the death of children hits us so hard; the relative of another student, one who came to me on Monday and said that because of it, she couldn't handle discussing the play. My boyfriend's mother lost her job this week in a lay-off, which is another kind of death. Everything is suddenly so very, very heavy.
And with the weight is the inescapable realization: this is it. This is all we have. We are balanced, precariously, on a knife edge, and any moment we plunge into the abyss that waits on either side. (I know I am stealing this metaphor from somewhere, but you'll forgive me, because it is a good one.)
The inescapable realization is, for me, followed by acceptance, or at least a desire for acceptance. This is how it happens: people die. So it goes. It just means that, before that happens, you have to live the best you can, reveling in the balance.
Please don't think I think I'm being original. I don't feel that I am. People have been saying this, in one form or another, for a very long time. But the realization, and the acceptance of it, is the closest thing to truth I've found, and I needed to share. There's been so much of heaviness, of late.
Milan Kundera says in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:
The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?Both, friends. Choose both.