First You Cry
Even when the gates of Heaven are closed to prayers, they are open to tears. — The Talmud
I used to be a woman who cried at Hallmark commercials. Maybe you are as well. But for the last couple of years, as the economic ground beneath all I've accomplished and cherished has shifted so profoundly in a life-shattering reversal of fortune, I’ve trained myself to stay alert when the roar and the rumbling of what could be catastrophic change begins. As anyone who lives on a geographic fault line where earthquakes are frequent will tell you, it’s the aftershocks you need to worry about. Just when you think you're safe again, you can get buried alive. Tears are too much of a distraction at times like this, so I've learned to adapt to a behavior that is completely contrary to my natural inclinations: no crying. I simply cannot allow myself the luxury of falling apart if the world does.
Not just yet.
Other times, the shock of whatever heartbreak has just befallen you is so great, and so unexpected, your visceral reaction is a hand to cover a stifled scream as your knees buckle. This is what happens to other people, but not you. You pay your bills on time, have a deeply personal relationship with God, do good works, are the best mother in the world, the most devoted wife, loyal friend. A moment ago you had dreams, vacation plans, routines, the car pool run, vet appointments, budget meetings, retirement pension, conference calls, soccer games, health insurance, dinner reservations, a home. Then the doctor calls. The Dow plunges. A drunk runs a red light. The bank forecloses. There's a menacing knock on the door. The court summons arrives, or a police car slows down then turns into your driveway. Photographs slipped through the mail slot reveal that your husband has not been working late at the office. In an instant you lose your job, your home, your health, your marriage, or the unthinkable, your child. We vanish in plain sight along with our good name, our identity, our honor, our sense of right and wrong. Our security. Our future. The day after tomorrow.
All the money’s gone? How can that be? No, you don’t understand. I didn't do anything wrong. There must be some mistake.
But no, there is no mistake. Only beautiful lives gone awry, promises that can no longer be kept, and hearts rent asunder. In this "ordinary instant," as Joan Didion so exquisitely calls the moment when each of our lives changes utterly and forever, we are catapulted into the realm of the unspeakable.
There are simply no words to express or console. No explanation, no reasoning, no self-help mantra, no belief big enough to surmount this anguish at this moment. No secret on earth to help you come to grips with the unfathomable. All we know is that we are stunned, shocked, hurt, grieving, and groping with too many unknowns to consider and too many contingencies to handle as we attempt, in wrenching pain and agonizing vain, the harrowing undoing of what cannot be undone.
And now, sweetheart, now you cry.