05 August 2007

Momus moment

I am not the type that has a hard time sleeping. I work with several A-type personalities who go at it day and night and together we are building evolutionary ways for people to communicate. I love my job. But I get tired and shut down and rest, very often when I need to. Tonight, a few weeks past our release still working hard and yearning for our launch and a vacation, I sent myself to bed.

But I had a hard time falling asleep. So I traced my day backward to recall if I had had coffee in the afternoon or eaten chocolate that might have kept me up. No, that wasn't it. I picked up a heavy book and began to read. My mind drifted. I closed the book and tried again to sleep but thoughts rolled around inside my head and would not be quiet. Sometimes I write when I can't figure out what is bothering me. As I sat down to the computer, opened my browser and looked at the date, my mysterious inability to sleep finally made some sense.

Two years ago on this day my mother died unexpectedly. It was a very sad day, the saddest, and a lingering one that seems to have stretched to now. Normally I write on this blog about the things that happen elsewhere in the world. But today I am writing about something inside of me and all of us, about the inescapable accumulation of knowledge.

We can't stop bad things from happening. Time, it keeps moving past of course. Things grow and things die. Layer upon layer of memory build and compress. I used to revel that things made more sense as time went by, but to understand is not necessarily to be more happy or feel more solace. There is just more truth. More of it, tipping us collectively into a better way. The future -- though we fight it -- is evolved and better prepares us to survive. We endure it because we must and we claim that knowing is what we want, but maybe you are like me and wish somedays that you knew less. Today I wish I'd seen and heard less. Knowledge is a burden we must carry, whose disappointments and difficulty we must absorb.

John Keats, one of my favorite authors, wrote a piece about good and bad things called A Song of Opposites. The poem points out that beautiful things are ever so much more beautiful when they are present with bad things. What a masochist he must have been, must we all be, and how true the inverse is as well.

Welcome joy, and welcome sorrow,
Lethe's weed and Hermes' feather;
Come to-day, and come to-morrow,
I do love you both together!
I love to mark sad faces in fair weather;
And hear a merry laugh amid the thunder;
Fair and foul I love together.
Meadows sweet where flames are under,
And a giggle at a wonder;
Visage sage at pantomine;
Funeral, and steeple-chime;
Infant playing with a skull;
Morning fair, and shipwreck'd hull;
Nightshade with the woodbine kissing;
Serpents in red roses hissing;
Cleopatra regal-dress'd
With the aspic at her breast;
Dancing music, music sad,
Both together, sane and mad;
Muses bright and muses pale;
Sombre Saturn, Momus hale; -
Laugh and sigh, and laugh again;
Oh the sweetness of the pain!
Muses bright, and muses pale,
Bare your faces of the veil;
Let me see; and let me write
Of the day, and of the night -
Both together: - let me slake
All my thirst for sweet heart-ache!
Let my bower be of yew,
Interwreath'd with myrtles new;
Pines and lime-trees full in bloom,
And my couch a low grass-tomb.

I remember a case study about death in a cultural anthropology course I took. The study highlighted the difference in the grieving of the death of a baby. It compared the still birth ratio in the U.S. with Nigeria and showed how death was so common in Nigeria that the women were therefore less emotional about their loss. If you are surrounded with good and a bad thing happens, it is nothing less than shocking. If you are surrounded with bad and a bad thing happens, you are simply less affected.

Some close to me know I had a challenging childhood, and my relationship with my mother had more than its share of problems. It is not the moments of difficulty now that tear me up. It is the contrast of beauty -- the slivers of time she was laughing or loving, like minerals between the rocks -- which cause the deepest sorrow. She was a beautiful woman, with a big sense of humor and the ability to steal a whole room of attention with just her smile. She tried very hard to be happy, and in the end, failed. To be known is to be loved and so I loved her very much.

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