I get too many notifications from Twitter. My muted phone keeps waking up brightly every few minutes, urging me to interrupt my work and look! Look what (literary agent, publishing house or lit mag) just published, or look! Look at the clever swipe (celebrity) just took at (idiot politician.)
But Wednesday, when I reached to swipe away the latest text, I was surprised to find a notification of someone quoting Rumi, Mike’s favorite poet and spiritual inspiration. The quote, as presented, seemed to force a rhyme, and made me wonder about the translation, but the spirit was clear- love transforms pain. I Googled several of the words used, and found a version that sounded more like the Rumi I came to expect from the many times Mike read him aloud to me:
“Through Love all that is bitter will be sweet, Through Love all that is copper will be gold, Through Love all dregs will become wine, through Love all pain will turn to medicine.”
I put my phone down and got back to work, becoming so absorbed in writing that I was nearly late for meetings. I made it through the meetings quelling anxiety, because the they threatened to consume all the remaining time allotted to keep up the expected pace of production for the day. I forgot about the Rumi quote as I raced to finish my work, which I did, with two minutes to spare. Clock out.
On my drive home, I talk to Angelic Daughter via bluetooth (hands free!), except for the 10 minutes or so on the toll road, when conversation threatens to distract me from my primary task of avoiding being mowed down by crazed drivers flying by me, weaving lanes at 20 mph above the already generous speed limit.
Once safely merged, the quote came back to me, and suddenly a big spiritual sandbag of loneliness dropped heavy on my chest. I turned up the radio just as I remembered that Rumi quote, when I felt that sandbag land, and heard the opening notes of the Barber Adagio for strings.
“Oh, way to pile on, universe. Thanks loads.”
That piece was used in the movie “Platoon,” in a scene of devastating loss that ripped me up, and that music is forever associated with that scene in my mind. The Rumi quote makes me think about Mike. The Barber Adagio makes me remember tragic loss.
Now I’m sobbing on the speedway. After a few minutes spent brushing tears off my cheeks and blinking a lot to maintain visibility, the truck that had been looming to my left, so I couldn’t see anything in that direction, pulled ahead, revealing a spectacular sunset in progress. Intensely pink, with a shelf cloud seemingly lit from under, brushed by “horsetail” (cirrus) clouds, the whole ceiling of it cut off by a straight line cloud break with a strip of clear, baby blue sky beyond.
“Oh, my God,” I thought. “Look at that, Mike.”
My phone’s camera couldn’t possibly do justice to that blazingly beautiful pink sunset, and no photo could evoke what I felt in that moment.
“All that is copper turns to gold.” Pain is a kind of medicine. Rumi wrote a lot about living with suffering and pain, and learning from it. Mike wrote about his suffering as a kind of companion. Pain reminds us of love. Love turns pain into medicine. Mike wrote that Rumi had reminded him “that we all die and it doesn’t even matter because this our affliction is only a sigh. God is close to us. Endure your affliction and he may even reward you.”
Mike’s physical pain was “managed,” except when he was laid down too flat, when it was excruciating. His emotional pain was profound – having to say good bye to the Angelic Daughter he raised, having to leave her here without him.
My pain is muted in comparison, but it is real – the pain of seeing her still struggle to accept that he is gone, trying so hard to understand the abstraction of “his spirit energy and love are always with us.” Sharing the ache of our ongoing search for how to live fully without him.
I thought I had that under “control,” lately. I thought I’d made “progress.” Rumi, Barber and that sunset smashed that notion – the idea that I could compartmentalize grief. I’m grateful for that. I needed a big, sloppy, snotty, sob – accompanied by the moaning sound the sobs bring up from my core – a kind of howling.
Love “turns pain to medicine.” Love tells me to embrace grief and understand that it isn’t going away. It’s just woven in, to my life as it is now and will be from now on.
With storm wind howling today, I remain, your muted, grateful, still-learning-from-love-and-pain-and-love,