On Loss and Art

I wrote this piece and posted it on my tumblr three years ago. I'd forgotten about it until today. I'm publishing it here because I still believe every single word of it.

I want to write about loss. Four years ago, my father died; then my grandmother died; then my uncle died. All these people within the span of a few years disappeared. I attended their funerals, I stood in rooms with their lifeless bodies, I put flowers on their graves, I watched mourners amass and then disperse; I’ve watched each season come and go without their presence. It has almost destroyed me. There was a time when I literally could not leave my house, when I felt so anxious and depressed I did not know how to function in the world. I can’t say I’ve fully recovered from it.

Let me be totally honest: I am not a resilient person. Things get to me; I brood on them; I can’t let them go; I almost wallow in melancholy but it’s how I’ve been since childhood. I was very close to my father. We were very much alike; shy, detached, contemplative, uncomfortable, socially awkward but kind and good-hearted and respectful of other people. He listened to me. We would often go to the park and play tennis then take a walk. That’s when I would tell him all these things buried inside, about my dreams to be a writer, to be a part of the world, to matter in some way, how I didn’t belong anywhere, how lonely I always felt. And he listened. He did not judge or utter platitudes. It was just us and the trees and the squirrels and the endless sky; the sun on our skin, acorns and leaves crunching under our shoes. We were together, alive, conscious of our connection and our profound bond. When I lost him, I lost a way of life; I lost those walks in the park, I lost his acceptance, his gentle support, his belief in me, his easy company. Ultimately, I lost myself. And I found out, in the process of all this death, that you do not lose somebody once. You lose them over and over again; every day of your life, every time you wake up, when you look at their picture and yearn for them again. I live in a state of insatiable wanting, for a time and a man that I can never retreive.

But this is where art comes in. If my life has been defined by death for the past several years, it has also been punctuated by periods of pure escape, through books and movies and paintings and music. It is through art that I attain transcendence. After my father’s death, my mother and I took to going to the local movie theater on a regular basis. We saw comedies and foreign films and dramas and thrillers. We sat together and laughed and cried and cringed. We found a world on that screen that was beautiful and bearable, that eviscerated our minds of sorrow for two hours until we stepped outside into the real world again. I intend to write more about these films and what they have meant to me in another posting.

To books. What can I say about them that hasn’t been said? I’ve accumulated too many. They are piled on tables and hidden in drawers because I am not blessed with bookshelves. The great books I’ve read I still carry inside myself, like a little library of my own—like Mrs. Dalloway or The Waves, like the Great Gatsby or I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell or the story “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield or Rebecca Solnit or the poetry of Plath, Dickinson, and Whitman. They are all within me because they have all awakened some part of me. If we can keep losing on a constant basis then maybe it is also possible to continually discover and unearth and then hoard and covet what we have found and share it with others. Maybe that’s what makes life worth living; to keep grabbing at these glittering fragments of life, these words and poems and songs that we spontaneously come across. I don’t know what comes after this life. I personally don’t believe there is anything; so it makes me want to live more now, to revel in the moment as much as possible; to read and create and think and empathize and give and write and love and remember. Always remember. But I still miss him; I still grapple with the meaning of a life that does not contain him. And I can’t help but long for those summer days of us walking together without a care in the world…