What I remember from that night were the tortured noises coming from my Grandpa's then-girlfriend, Dolores, who'd flung her body across the casket--like a woman straight out of a telenovela. She made wild, guttural sounds--banshee-like, agonized. It was a wailing, really.
It was the sound of loss.
I remember glances exchanged between (particularly) my female family members. I remember disgusted whispers. To this day I don't know whether those looks and disapproving whispers had to do with the sounds themselves--quite dramatic and unfiltered when compared to the more reserved outward mourning of everyone else there--or the fact that they were coming from a woman whom most of my Grandpa's loved ones had yet to accept as part of his life.
Maybe it was because I was his granddaughter, one generation removed from my Mom's, from those who still had difficulty picturing my Grandpa with anyone other than my 8-years-deceased Grandmother. Maybe it was because, since I can remember, I've always felt I had one foot inside any given situation and one foot outside--the disinterested observer, looking in. Whichever it was, I was not bothered by Dolores's display. On the contrary, I felt myself drawn to it. It was almost like a power source I felt I could draw from. It was just so, so raw. So unapologetically passionate.
It was the sound of loss, yes. But to me, it was also the sound of love.
When I was in high school, I was introduced to a book called The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran.
It was full of some of the most beautiful poetry I've ever read, and one of the very memorable pieces I read was the following, the main character's (the "prophet's") view on joy and sorrow:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was often times filled with your tears.And how else can it be?The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain...
...When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
I think of those lines often when contemplating loss. I think about how little I've felt or mourned the loss of things. I've never loved things. But now, when I contemplate the idea of lost loved ones, I can't help but remember that my sadness is felt in proportion to the joy I felt in their presence and which I may have experienced, generally, through having known them.
Two weeks ago I was out to breakfast with my family. We were talking about parenthood and I suddenly found myself with tears in my eyes. Specifically, my heart was heavy with the kinds of doubts that often plague parents: the second-guessing of my disciplinary decisions, the constant questioning whether or not, in every turn, I've done right by my son.
The emotion was right there on the surface, such that I couldn't even contain it in that very public place. I felt those questions so deeply because there is so much at stake--because the well-being of the little person I love most in the world, who's a true part of me--hangs in the balance.
I was sitting there trying to hold back tears and hoping nobody would make me explain them in that very moment, when something kind of strange happened.
I looked up from our table and noticed a man in his 60's or so, who must have just been seated in the previous couple of minutes. He was directly in my line of view and nobody else at my table could see him from where they sat.
What caught my eye about this man--who was sitting there with two women, one roughly his age and one a generation older--was that he was weeping. I mean...weeping. I couldn't hear him from where I sat, but I could see his shoulders hunched over, his whole frame shaking as he bowed his head in his hand, pressing on his eyelids with thumb and forefinger as if to cinch off tears.
Instantly, I was rapt.
How often do you see a man weeping?
You never see a man weeping, especially in public. Why was this man weeping and who were these women he was sitting with? What could cause a man that kind of pain?
But even as I silently asked that question, the answer was right there: It was love. It could only be love. And, following that love, loss.
Maybe he had just lost somebody, literally. Maybe he'd just learned of a loved one's fatal diagnosis. Maybe he'd just learned of his own.
In any case, it was love. It had to be. No man weeps like that over stocks gone bad. And even if he does, it's not the loss of money he's mourning but the fear of the loss of respect, possibly the loss of the love of those who stood to benefit from it.
In my heart, though, I know this man was weeping for a person, for somebody who had once been or was now still, for the time being, his delight.
And I felt suddenly alive, suddenly infused with a sense of connectedness, of shared humanity. I wanted to know this man and every person he'd ever known. I felt my own worries in that moment lifted as I was reminded that all is well and would be well in the world my son and I live in because we are sharing the experience with the whole of humanity.
There would be sorrow, for sure. But there would be love and, in Gibran's words again, "the sharing of pleasures."
I mentioned the man to nobody at the time. Selfishly (and until now), I wanted that moment just for me. I wanted to savor the joy to be found in it, that reminder. I knew I'd need a little time and distance to realize just how meaningful it was.
If you ask me a million times, a million times I'll choose to take all the pain this life can possibly bring, in exchange for its pleasure. Whoever you are reading this, wherever you may be, I'm thankful to be sharing the experience with you.