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.