I find I like to use what precious free time I have these days crying. I have anticipated this weekend—no trips, no candidate dinners, no Skype meetings—with such gusto, such certainty that I would smile my way through chores and walks, work and play. Instead, I decided mostly to cry a lot. I think it was brought on by an e-mail from my hilarious, retired, world-class mountain climber, creative writer, and sculptor aunt, who admitted to my strangely addicted football-watching family that she had never watched a football game, in all of her 79 years, in full. Upon seeing my nephew, her grand-nephew, score in a televised game this week, she declared it a “lovely touchdown.”
This made me cry because my aunt is the sister of my mother, whose pithy quotes, equanimity, and loveliness I miss still every second of every day. When I have free time, I mostly remember my mother and cry. She would not want this. In fact, she would see it as a terrible waste of time and the antithesis of watching lovely touchdowns. But I haven’t always done what she would want—ironically, my disobedience is certainly something she would want and expect.
All of this business allows me both to dwell on mourning my mother and to think slowly about vigils and vigilance. My mother died a year and four months ago. I thought I would “recover” sooner than I have. But I just still miss her and her style, generosity, and tone every single day. I hear her voice in that of my siblings, detect her humor in that of her siblings, see the loss of her across my father’s body.
Today I wondered if the mourning process hasn’t been layered by other mournings of the past 24 months. All of the gun violence, in some cases targeting specific groups, and in some cases, “just” revealing untreated mental illness loaded into the canister of a gun, this gun violence has us half-closing our eyes as we see loved ones who feel the harm as we do, whose eyes shine wet atop the candles we hold at vigil after vigil. Maybe I’m affected, too, by my son’s beautiful reading the other night of Federico García Lorca’s “Romance de la luna, luna” (here sung by the amazing Camarón de la Isla), with its haunting “u” sounds (Huye, luna, luna, luna) and its finality in death (El aire la vela, vela/El aire la está velando). The air keeps vigil.
The air keeps vigil. That’s how I see our country now. The air watches. Vigil is in the air. We are on a 24/7 system of watching and waiting, wondering and worrying, working and weathering. We are tense. We know another black church can get shot up, another synagogue torn apart. We know another woman can get raped, another white man given a job for life. We know another voting urn can be set up, another slate of votes discounted. We see, we watch people fleeing their countries to find some peace in another country, and we recognize the irony of this conflicted, contorted country somehow providing more peace to a migrant than her or his home country did. We know what dignity is. We fervently celebrate its presence but frequently mourn its absence. In my own little town, we know a rainbow flag can rise and fall, a racist hate group can rise and rise, and a sense of safety can falter. We cry, we worry, we run, we weep. Vigils and vigilance take it out of us. All that vigilant adrenaline, spent on combatting evil. All that vigilant adrenaline that could somehow be put towards loving community.
5 thoughts on “Vigils and Vigilance”
This is a lovely meditation, Ellen. I’m in tough shape this weekend, too, without all your reasons for exhaustion and grief, and I’m hearing from others in the same boat: https://annemichael.wordpress.com/2018/11/10/post-traumatic-stress/. Sending love.
Thanks for the comment and the link, Lesley, and for always reading the blog.
Thanks for that, Ellen. Made me think a lot. My mother is 91, and I’m lucky to have her still with me. She wondered why her god had left her here when my father died two years ago. Then my daughter lost her first baby, a son, in a cruel childbirth, and I knew why mother was still here. It was to keep me from drowning. And, yes, the crying waters were definitely made higher by the endless mourning in America. My mother, who was once a staunch Phyllis Schlafly anti-feminist (but is now a staunch anti-Trumpist), has become the philosopher-queen of generations of strong women — me, my daughter, and her new baby girl, who doesn’t yet know she’s powerful enough to stop a flood.
Thank you for this, Jane. I love that image of your mother, and of her legacy through the generations.
I understand. I had a dream two night ago including our remaining aunts and uncles gathered in gaiety, laughter and exuberance to be together. My Mom was down for a visit with them and I was witness. I could not have been more overjoyed. Flash forward in my dream, I was in a dank, dark and old building without light aching for my Mom’s presence. I started shouting and wailing repeatedly, “Come back, I want you back”. The deepness of the voice and anquish caused me to awaken from this dream. I too wonder how much of pain is due to the loss of my Mom and how much of it is the unravelling of the world around me. My Mom too, would not approve of extended grief either.
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