Sunday, November 30, 2014

About Time: The Landscape of Cancer and of Memory

I have often told Mark that sometimes I write blog posts for my children, sometimes I write them for him, and I often write them for others. But just as often, I write them for me. There are times when I think perhaps I have shared too much of myself on this blog. But I come back to this basic point: I write because something inside of myself needs to write and to share. I usually don't receive comments, but this doesn't bother me, either. The important thing with some posts is simply that I write.

This is one of those posts.

On Thanksgiving Day afternoon, we decided to watch a DVD. We were working on dinner - well, Mark and our daughter Hannah were working on dinner. Nathan, our son, was playing with Hazel on his iPad. I was watching them. Cary, our son-in-law, was at work because American Thanksgiving - for some strange reason - is not a holiday in Canada. Hannah picked out the movie, "About Time." It is one she had spoken of before and obviously loved. She wanted to share it with us, and we were happy to watch it.

I personally enjoyed the unfolding plot of the movie. For those who are not familiar with it, it tells the story of an English family whose male members have the ability - once they turn 21 - to travel back into time. The story focuses on the only son of the only surviving male member of the family. Shortly after the son turns 21, his father brings him into his study and tells him the family secret. The son is incredulous - at first - but then tests what his father has just told him and finds that it works. 

The father - who appears to be independently wealthy - says that he has used the gift to feed his passion for literature. Fair enough ... though exactly how he does that is not spelled out. The son decides to use it for what he seeks most in life, i.e., to find a woman whom he can love who will, in turn, love him.

The movie, for me, had two primary plot lines that run more or less parallel throughout most of the film. The first: boy seeks woman, boy falls in love with woman, boy marries woman and creates a family. The second: boy loves his father, father loves his son, boy and father share the gift of time travel, boy says an unexpected good-bye to a father who has filled his life with light and love and laughter. A third plot line involves the struggles of the son's free-spirited sister to find love and light in her own life, but that line did not resonate as much with me as the other two.

The first story line was nice and romantic and fairly straightforward. The second, less so. I was already having my own dark thoughts about aspects of the movie when a curve ball was thrown: the father was diagnosed with a terminal illness. No one saw this coming. Not even Hannah. But, the ball was thrown, and all of us sat staring at the screen as the effects of that throw hit home.

No, no, no. This was too close to home. No, no, no, no, no. Please, no. Too late. We were there. I started to silently cry. I felt like I wanted to regurgitate all the pent-up anger, hurt, worry and grief that had  been walled off from my functioning self.

Mark, too, started to cry. Something about the movie had pierced his shell as well. I could see it in his eyes: the fear, the sorrow, the pain. No matter how positive we are, no matter how much for which we have to be thankful, no matter how hard we try to live in the moment, there are moments like this when, once an avalanche of grief has been triggered, there is little one can do to stop it until it comes to rest after cascading downward.

The tumbling grief also triggers avalanches in others. Nathan and Hannah were also affected. She was so apologetic about the movie. She had forgotten about this aspect of the movie. The eyes of grief change one's perception of the world and things in it.

But there was another aspect of the movie that saddened and depressed me before we had arrived at the plot twist involving the father. The film had reminded me - especially since I was in Vancouver where we had lived the first ten years of our marriage and where our five older children were born - of what a better dad I wished I could have been to my older children.

There were scenes in the movie that beautifully depicted the tender love between the father and his son. I found myself wishing that I had had the gift of time when I was a young father, to be able to go back and fix things. I realized while caught in this reverie, however, that what I really needed to have the ability to do back then was fix myself, and that was not possible via travel backward in time. Rather, that work would have to be carried out day by day and on into the future.

I have thought much, during our time here in Vancouver, about those years here. About my struggles. About the migraines I suffered on a weekly basis. About the constant tension in my marriage. About the financial constraints. About other frustrations and challenges. About regrets. I have occasionally thought that things could have been different during those years if only ... But things were as they were, and as much as I might like to will them different, they weren't.

It is time for me to make peace with the past. In the end, all we really have is today.

1 comment:

  1. Dearest Joseph, so many things to say.

    First of all, "write"! Writing enables eloge, self-expression, it renders the intangible tangible through words - feelings, sensations, states of mind, perceptions of life, others and one's self. I love your writing, what you say.

    You describe scenes that become alive for me, as if I am a fly on the wall watching a silent film. Something about this post pierces the descriptive, which reveals a layer beneath the surface. Being reminded of Mark's cancer without switching off the screen, faced with a scene that covers us with waves of regret, these are powerful to me because of the reality that you allow yourself to share. These flaws of imperfection that we are always so busy covering up. It makes me think of Mark's realization of loving and embracing his cancer. Love the imperfect father that you regret, love the threat of cancer.

    I,too, deal with regrets of my own. The challenge I find is allowing myself to grieve, to not punish my grieving or to try to shorten it. Simultaneously seeking the joy and love of the moment can feel heart-wrenching, tiring and, also, guilt-ridden: does living with love and lightness detract-betray grieving and regret or vice-a-versa? I am finding that there is not an ideal recipe, only one that I work to try out daily.

    Finally, I think that so many of us write without commenting due to the other social media. I will interact with this medium more often. <3