Thursday, March 26, 2015
Matters of Interpretation
It's been a busy week, and the highlight was a visit with my friend Margaret who flew in for a nice long weekend from her home in the Bay area. Her husband Dave, who was healthy and fit, died of a sudden, massive stroke at age 50 three months after Mike died, and she and I were put together by mutual friends and family who saw us both falling apart and thought we might benefit from a friendship. They were right.
We have a lot in common, being suddenly and unexpectedly widowed in middle age, and without our own children (I have two beautiful adult stepdaughters). When life throws you a curveball like this - well, having someone with which to share the burden of grief, who really gets what you're going through, can make all the difference. We spent those early days emailing, texting and chatting like mad, sobbing and laughing together nearly every day, and I went to meet her in SF when I was there to visit family the summer before last.
Then last year she flew out for Mike's first angelversary and the highlight was a manta adventure. Here in Kona the mantas feed right off the coast at night, when their briny dinner is around, and you can take a boat trip out to snorkel or dive with them. It was one of the most incredible things I've ever seen in my life, those gentle giants swooping gracefully within inches of us with their big, soulful eyes full of as much curiosity about us as we have about them. There were dozens of them out that night and it took our breath right out of our chests.
This year we decided to go zip lining. I don't much care for heights and I wondered why on earth the idea came to me, because when we finally got hooked up to that first line, for that first short 100 foot zip not far from the ground, my heart was in my throat. I was terrified and I thought - no way I can do this. But in that moment, I just decided to trust - what, the guide? God? My new adventure of life? Did I decide I had nothing to lose? Or maybe I'd already been in the scariest place I could be, losing Mike? I'm honestly not sure, but trust I did, so I took a big breath and pushed myself away from the tree. And guess what? I not only survived, but had the time of my life.
We zipped from tree to tree, going ever higher up in the enchanted and historic Hawaiian forest canopy; sometimes we walked across long rope bridges a hundred feet off the ground, which was also scary and exciting at the same time. The picture above is myself and Margaret on that last, long and wonderfully heart-pounding zip, over 1100 feet and in tandem. Looking back at that picture later we found it highly symbolic. The two of us, precariously zooming off into the unknown, side by side. It was another adventure I'll never forget.
The guides told us afterwards that the longest, fastest zip line in the world is in South Africa - it's a mile long and at the fastest point you go 100 miles per hour. Margaret and I just looked at each other, raised our eyebrows and smiled. Maybe, someday.
We talked a lot this time about signs, signposts, life changes, big decisions, new relationships and that big, scary wide-open question of our futures. As events and people come and go and we are faced with new challenges and opportunities, how to pay attention, how to interpret the possibilities, how to maintain a positive outlook when we've lost so much and feel so unsteady.
I had a conversation with my cousin last week too, she called for my birthday - we don't talk as much as we like since she lives abroad, and among other things she asked me about my new companion. Do I love him? She herself is in a new relationship after the long and difficult ending of her marriage, so she was curious how I was handling it all.
I had to pause at that question. Perhaps there is still a lingering feeling of guilt, as if I'm cheating on Mike, for admitting to deep feelings for another man. I tried to explain that yes, I do feel love for this new guy, but it's not the same love I had for Mike. Does that make sense? - I asked her. It's not as if it's less or more - it's just...different. The love I have for Mike is still here. He still has just as much room in my heart as he did when he was alive - I am still in love with my late husband, and I will always miss him to the deepest part of my soul, to the point of agonizing pain. But yes - how ever impossible it may seem, now there is indeed emotion for a new person in here too. It's just...different. It's a very tangled web. Hard to explain, I told her.
We are a family of musicians, having being raised studying classical piano and other instruments, so I could relate to the analogy she used to explain her understanding of my lack of words...she told me she recently went to a concert to hear a certain symphony she had played herself with an orchestra years ago, but this version, this interpretation of the music, was just so completely different. At first she was taken aback, but she ended up enjoying it just as much.
And so it is with new love, with new relationships, she suggested. It will never be the same love, the same experience, the same expectations...but it can still be good. Great, even.
When I was married to Mike I interpreted the world a certain way. I saw things through a lens we looked through together; through a particular focus we shared. But as time moves on I feel myself less and less able to see things that way. Without him around to help navigate, I've had to re-learn, or maybe re-determine, my own path, and how I see the world. Some days, I see it as horribly difficult, scary and torturous. Other days the sense of possibility and adventure leaves me breathless. And sometimes all those feelings seem to be around at the same time, all jumbled up. Maybe like the experience of that zip line with my friend Margaret.
Maybe, it's just a matter of interpretation.