Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On fear.

A couple of weeks ago, my mom was hospitalized with severe stomach pain. The doctors were worried, thinking it was an infection, and I looked at flights to Tennessee

There's a clarity that comes with real fear, for yourself, for your family or loved ones. We wear our fragility like the Emperor' new clothes. We don't even notice it unless someone or something points it out, and then we become shocked, embarrassed at our nakedness.

I'm very lucky here. I know that. I'm happy with the life I've built in Boston. But when I say I love my job or that I love this city, it may be true, but it's true only to a point. Love comes in degrees. And I was ready to hop on a plane.

I don't think it would surprise anyone who knows me if I said I was and have always been a mama's boy. I feel no shame in saying that, because if you had a mother like mine, you'd be a mama's boy or girl too.

What openness I have in my heart is directly from her. When I was young, we read together folktales and myths from Asia, Africa, America, and Europe. And from her, though I never gained a single system of belief, I learned that all beliefs can be beautiful, that all of the ways people try to make sense of a world that can be cruel and harsh and absurd, carry with them their own depth, their own hurt and beauty.

I liked Coyote from Native American tales and Br'er Rabbit from Uncle Remus, Loki and Prometheus of Norse and Greek mythology. I liked figures who were always a step ahead, who understood where the chips were going to fall and who seemed to outwit not only the other characters but the world at large. It is no coincidence that these sorts of characters are the fire bringers, the ones who take nature's ultimate symbol of chaos and transform it into humanity's symbol of innovation, creativity, and control.

In "Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself," which is an extended essay and interview with David Foster Wallace, there's a part that describes Wallace and Jonathan Franzen discussing the purpose of fiction, and they decide finally that it is to stave off loneliness. I would go a step further and say that writing, the creation of narrative, is there to stave off death.

It allows us to give meaning and understanding to all the things we cannot control. We all get the phone calls we don't want. We each come to a point where we are forced to understand the tiers of our lives and the order of our loves. I am very lucky, and very happy to say that my mother is feeling better. What ailment she had seems to have passed over two nights in a hospital bed. She is home. She is well. And I am in Boston, still a little scared, still, when I think about it, sad.

But I tell stories. That is what I do. And though I know doing that will never truly control what I fear, that it will never keep everyone I love safe, I can hope that occasionally the attempt is beautiful. And maybe that's enough.

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