Archive for December, 2012


Today is December 21st, and here in the northern hemisphere it’s the shortest day and the longest night of the year. In Minnesota, as we creep toward the end of the year, the shortening days grow more pronounced. The sun sets just after 4, or so it seems, and the sky is so gray that many days it feels like it never really came up to begin with. I know we’re not Norway or Alaska or someplace where the sun actually doesn’t come up, but for those of us with finely tuned SAD spectra, it’s bad enough. I’ve spent most of the last week feeling more than a little overwhelmed, and like maybe I could just stay in bed until the new year. We have people coming over on Monday (and I invited them, so it’s my own fault) – and the house is a mess, none of the presents are wrapped, there are still hand-made gifts to finish that have no hope of being done in time. I have no idea what we’re eating, and I’m pretty sure there’s something developing sentience in the crisper drawer. R is suffering from a mystery skin ailment that periodically just shoots pain through his body, and a trip to urgent care today turned up a “Hmmm. That’s weird. Want some codeine?”

The cares and problems of my friends feel even more overwhelming – a child with cancer, losses of loved ones, a messy separation involving baseless criminal charges, and a couple of scary car accidents. Compared to what they are coping with, my craziness is small – which makes me feel more like a failure when I can’t seem to get my act together. The dark, ooky cold of December doesn’t help.

Today, the Yarn Harlot put it well: this is the darkest night. When the sun rises tomorrow, we will be back on the upswing. It may happen slowly (and in MN, it always does), but tomorrow the day will be one minute longer than it was today, and that makes me happy. Unlike the YH, I don’t have little thoughtful gifts or beautiful food smells to give to those I love today, but when I get home tonight I will light candles in the windows and wash some dishes and fold the laundry. I’ll be one step closer to welcoming our friends on Monday. And you know what? They’re our friends. If they come over and all the snacks are from Costco instead of homemade, they’re not going to mind. And you know what? I’ll be so glad to see them that neither will I.


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I’ve been trying for the last few weeks to find a way to talk about the death of an old friend from college. Every time I’ve sat down to write about him or the stroke which took his life after an agonizing 10 days in ICU, I’ve come up short. I think it’s a thing that happens to us when we grieve – the hurt and the memories take up so much space in our heads that our language centers become unavailable for a time. We say “words fail me,” but what we really mean is “I fail words” – the words to describe what we are going through exist, but we are unable to grasp them. Like a sound repeated too many times, they lose their genuine meanings, and we fall back on cliche and platitudes.

A little time has passed, and I’m ready now to talk about the regret I have of letting go of C, his wife E, and the loving family of friends we shared in college. I had seen him last on the 4th of July, at one of the two annual gatherings that R and I usually manage to make it to. In recent years I’ve felt necessarily outside the group. It’s that thing that happens so easily in our business – you work nights and weekends when most of your non-theater friends work a regular 9-5. Over the years, you turn down invitations to Saturday afternoon movies and Friday night poker games. People start to forget about you when they make plans, or they don’t forget but assume you’re not available – which is usually true. And you, because you don’t see them often, forget to include them in your activities on the rare nights that you ARE free. Suddenly, you wake up one morning to discover that your friend is in the hospital – someone you used to know well – and you haven’t seen him in six months. You spend every spare thought hoping and praying that he’ll wake up so you can tell him you’re so, so sorry, that you will do better, that you have learned. And then he doesn’t, and you’re stuck trying to put words together with a brain that can’t comprehend them anymore.

I write this in the quiet aftermath of a mass killing in Connecticut, where at last count 20 children and seven adults are dead. My Facebook feed has exploded with expressions of sadness, anger, horror. Many of my friends are like-minded and so the calls for stricter gun control laws and better mental health services are loud and clear. Each new shooting incident rips open the old wounds of the survivors of previous ones, and so the pain for people in Minneapolis and Red Lake must feel fresh and raw all over again. Someone today observed that there are no wrong expressions of grief; that each of us must do what we feel we must do to make sense of these things. Silence and screaming are both appropriate.

I guess my answer to the shock of the many is to mourn the one. Death isn’t fair, no matter how it comes, when the person it takes is so young. C was the first among us to go; E is the first to survive and feel what it is to have to live on after the loss of the person you love. I do not have a child of my own and cannot imagine what the parents of those children are feeling tonight, but I know how it feels to grieve. I miss C, and so I will feel that ache as my way to relate to the more general pain. I will let my regret for things unsaid and unshared shape my empathy for those who are feeling those regrets for their loved ones today. As time passes and we regain our ability to speak, I hope we can take these feelings and voice them in a way that produces change. For myself, the loss of C has taught me to say yes, to love deeply, to throw myself into the lives of others. As a nation, I hope we can learn similar lessons that lead to fundamental changes in the way we do things. Now, however, it is time to acknowledge that words are inadequate, and observe a moment of silence.

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