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Monday, April 18, 2022

Wherever They Are to Be Found


“We’re always buying books,” the Artist used to tell people who wondered what we did all winter. We felt it as a big loss when all three bookstores in Benson closed (one because of death, one due to retirement, and one when the owner moved out of the area). The only independent bookstore I know of in Cochise County now is down in Bisbee, and getting to Bisbee always seemed to take a lot of planning, so much so that we hadn’t been there since spring of 2021. And why would I go without my husband, who loved to read the New York Times at the library in Bisbee (only library in the county to carry it) and to enjoy a generous bowl of pho at the little hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant? 

at Bisbee library

Awaiting lunch in Bisbee

As for where to find used books, there are still thrift shops and little shops run by various Friends of the Library groups in Cochise County. The Friendly Bookstore in Willcox even has an outdoor 10-cent book table, which the Artist and I have perused for years on a regular basis. (That reminds me of someone who came in my bookstore in Northport to ask where my 10-cent books were. Nowhere, sorry! I am working for a living, not on salary or pension!) Books on the table remain outdoors night and day, in all kinds of weather, enduring baking sun and punishing dust, and in the event of rain (a rare occurrence), soaked volumes are hauled off to the waste transfer station down the road and the table refilled with a “new” lot of used books. But on my own in recent weeks, I haven’t been doing much book shopping. It isn’t the same by myself, we have plenty already in the cabin, and I can borrow books from the library. 


The other day, however, a shady parking spot was available across the street (shade for puppy), so I stopped, and a glance through the 10-cent books turned up a little paperback I figured had to be worth gambling a thin dime. Author Stephen Levine’s book, Meetings at the Edge, had a subtitle that began Dialogues with the Grieving and the Dying…. Now, I do not think (or feel that) “the Universe” put that book out there for me to find. On the other hand, the subtitle did speak to my situation. 


Each chapter begins with someone calling “the Dying Project,” a free telephone consultation service provided by Stephen and his wife Ondrea (1979-82) for the “terminally ill and those working closely with a death.” Some callers had cancer, while others had family members who had received a terminal diagnosis or were already near death. One woman’s daughter had been murdered. There were occasional professionals who worked with dying patients and had a crisis of their own at the same time.


A family member wrote to me recently that “when we open ourselves to love, we open ourselves to pain,” and reading that it occurred to me that the briefest way I can describe the lessons in Meetings at the Edge is that the author gradually brings his callers to see that they – and that is, we, all human beings-- must be open to pain and loss and even to death in order to be fully open to love and to be truly alive, because if we fight against what is, we cannot be fully alive in the world as it is.


Disclosure: I am not a Buddhist. (In fact, I am so not-Zen!) And this book is saturated with Zen metaphysics. But just as I find the way people treat other people much more important than anything they say they believe, so as I read this book I set the metaphysics to one side and focus on the practice, which is not a turning away from or attempting to cover over grief but a sitting with it, acknowledging it, with all its pain, in order to get beyond pain to a core of – Levine calls it “undifferentiated,” “eternal,” or “universal,” -- I’ll call it undying love.


In my last post, I quoted myself as follows: “There is no shortcut to a long relationship.” Similarly, there is no shortcut through grief. There is no spiritual pain pill, no bromide, no set of magic words to clear away the clouds of bereavement once and for all. 


I have written about the deep gratitude I feel for my years with the Artist, for our rich life together, along with gratitude I have for the support and love of family and friends, attentive neighbors, and even a very demanding puppy that gets me out of bed one morning after another. And all that is true and real, and the sun is shining here in Arizona (even as it snows again in Michigan), and I realize I am a very fortunate woman in many, many ways . But if anyone thinks my heart is not often heavy, that my throat does not ache and that my eyes don’t fill with tears as I drive down the highway, then I have painted a very, very misleading picture. 


How to wrap up this post? Perhaps I won’t even try. It is early yet in my journey….


Summer morning light, northern Michigan


Dawn said...

It's very early in your journey. But I think you're doing the best you can and that's all you can ask of yourself. Eyes filling, throats closing, memories overwhelming, wishes, sadness, it's all there. And will continue to be. But so will the gratitude continue. It's all important.

P. J. Grath said...

Thank you, Dawn.

Alexis Wittman said...

These posts of 'The Artist' and your life together are very healing and enlarge our sense of you two together. You are doing well... as well can be. And, browsing books is surely healing too.

Thank you for sharing.

P. J. Grath said...

Alexis, I cannot gauge "how" I'm doing on the rollercoaster of grief from one hour to the next. Levine writes of the "Braille method" of counseling, and I guess I am on the Braille path of healing, just feeling my way along.