Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Personal Essay on Shock Absorbers

Life is simply shocking.

This is my answer to the statement that life is unfair. I didn’t come to this conclusion from experiencing things too harsh to give light to-- divorce, bankruptcy, a two-year war with clinical depression-- all before my thirtieth birthday. Though those things did happen, life is kind enough to numb you during the really big matters. (Have you noticed that when people get their limbs torn off or something equally awful, they always say, ‘I didn’t feel a thing’?) This is the way it is with the big things, you are suddenly suspended, freed from natural laws by some unnatural kind of mercy. Life is what happens in between. A series of brightly lit moments, tiny glimpses of truth strung together like Christmas lights.

My earliest recollection of one of these jolts of truth was before I was eleven. (I only know this because it came before one of the biggest shocks of my life, which left me with a background noise of fear. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

Living in a small Pennsylvanian town, lightning bug season was our answer to fireworks. Fireflies. Our faces pressed against the window, our eyes straining to see through the dusk and dirty screen for the first blink of green. Their mating call, our signal to begin the hunt. Mason jars gripped tightly in both hands, we would rush out, squealing, laughing, charging the tiny lights and then try to follow them through the growing darkness until their biological processes betrayed them once again. Once we got bored of gathering them into a living lantern, we would start to make glowing jewelry from their gooey, torn off abdomens. The last season, maybe metaphorically the last season of my innocence, came in the moment I realized the other half of the bug was dead, and I had killed it. It felt foreign, this thought, foreign and then hot and startling like a sudden summer storm. Shock. It was to be the end of lighting bug jewelry for anyone near me.

Living in the woods, there were other moments of death-shock. The baby moles I had tried to save from the cat by putting them up out of reach on top of my sliding board- my aluminum sliding board…on a sweltering summer day. Shock. That same cat’s kittens being mauled by a neighbor’s dog. Shock. But nothing could have prepared me for the realization of my own mortality.

I always ask people now if they remember the exact moment they realized one day they would die. They always say no. Is this normal? My exact moment came as an eleven year old, lying in the grass, staring up at the sky. Something uncomfortable began to grow within me as my fingers absentmindedly stroked the grass, thoughts were reflecting the motion of the clouds, drifting unchecked, uninhibited. Discomfort exploded into a moment of blind truth, a searing white moment of conclusion. The sky was ripped open as the veil of childhood fell from my eyes. One day I would no longer feel the softness of grass between my fingers. One day would be my last. One day, I would no longer exist. This one sent shock waves into my future.

There are two choices a person has when faced with such a truth. One- don’t allow yourself to reach that deeply into thought ever again, or two- begin stacking layers of beliefs, superstitions, religions between you and the truth, a mental padding that you can fall back on, a shock absorber.

Alternating these two things seemed to get me from one day to the next, until the subject of death once again touched my life. I lost my best friend of fourteen years. There were a few hot-truth moments strung out through that experience. Beginning with the fact that death steamrolls right over love, care and devotion; then it rips away the padding you so carefully built up over the years so the things you thought you believed in become a rapidly disappearing mist of illusions. You are naked once again. Shocked.

Months later, bursting from the ashes of mauled-over grief came another jolt of truth. Love had survived. (Me-shocked: what?) Yes, after all, it makes sense. Something as powerful, infinite and incomprehensible as love could not have just burst into being 18 billion years ago along side our infant universe. Love is the key to immortality. So, this is the one illuminated moment I keep on top of the rest, as the tiny points of truth wind their way through my life toward the brightest truth of all.

Love cheats death.

4 comments:

Christian said...

What a wonderful, deep, and meaningful rumination on life, love, and death.

The first chapter of my first novel, Digging Holes In A Lake states:

The first thing I learned as a child was that my mother wanted me dead. I spent the next twenty-nine years trying to fulfill her wishes.

True story...and the moment I realized my own mortality...when someone wants to take it away from you.

Thank you for this astounding essay, Shannon. I love it when I'm forced to think.

Shannon said...

Wow, Christian. I now have a new "first line" favorite. I don't think great writing necessary has to come from pain, but alot of it does. Mostly I think it comes from honesty.

Thanks for sharing that. I guess that truly is when we realize the value of something--when we have to face losing it.

Shawn said...

Great post; well written and thought out. I couldn't agree more.
Thanks. Glad I stopped in.

Christian said...

LOL I've grown to enjoy pain. Now if that isn't perverted, I don't know what is!