Saturday, January 7, 2017

On Being Alone: Superman vs. Human

I was so proud of myself. I was, as I told a friend yesterday, writing the blog post in my mind as I sat in the theatre waiting for the movie to start. For the first time in, well, perhaps ever (I can't actually recall having ever done so), I went to a movie on Wednesday night by myself. It was meant to be a triumph of sorts, to celebrate me having a date with myself, to prove that I could do it. And not only do it, but do it ... spectacularly. Such pride.

I had been inspired by the following quote I had recently read:
"Be alone. Eat alone, take yourself on dates, sleep alone. In the midst of this you will learn about yourself. You will grow, you will figure out what inspires you, you will curate your own dreams, your own beliefs, your own stunning clarity, and when you do meet the person who makes your cells dance, you will be sure of it, because you are sure of yourself." ~ Bianca Sparacino
My first movie date with myself did not turn out to be the triumph I had imagined it to be. The mistake I made - if it was a mistake - was choosing the wrong movie. Because of proximity and timing, and because I had heard it is a very good movie, I went to see "Manchester By the Sea." I was prepared for drama, but not for depression. Nor was I prepared for triggers. 

I won't go into the plot, except to say that it is depressing and that it takes place in a New England seaside town. I think I could have handled the depressing bit (maybe), but not the trigger. As has happened several times during the last ten months since Mark died, I wasn't prepared for a trigger. During these times when places, people and/or events have triggered emotions I didn't realize were there or, more to the point, have triggered emotions that I thought I had successfully mastered, I have chastised myself later, sometimes severely (e.g., after Tahiti) for (a) not anticipating the triggers, and (b) "succumbing" to them, for being vulnerable to them.

The trigger in the movie lies in the depressing New England seaside drama. Almost a year ago, in what turned out to be the last weeks of Mark's life, he and I watched "Olive Kitteridge" -- the TV miniseries that dramatizes the Elizabeth Strout novel by the same name. Mark loved it; but then again, he always had a thing for books and movies that I considered far too depressing to tackle. (Perhaps this is because I've had enough and more of depression and drama during the course of my own life and have little desire to delve into that created by others.) 

The point is, "Manchester," having an almost identical depressing setting, triggered memories of the last weeks that Mark and I shared together, and this ultimately proved to be too much for me. Approximately halfway through the movie, I got up and left and went home.

I told this story to a very good friend yesterday and laughed when I said, "And I had the blog post written in my mind." "But," I added, "I couldn't very well write it after what happened." 

"Why not?" she responded. "Why can't you write about what happened. You know, Joseph," she gently added after a few moments, "you don't have to be a superman," echoing almost verbatim the words of another very good friend who had telephoned me on Thursday. "You can just be human."

And of course, that's what I am. Human. But I sometimes need to be reminded of this. Thank you, dear friends.

I have been on a journey these past ten months since Mark died, and sometimes I've been very demanding and judged myself harshly because I felt I didn't meet up to my or someone's expectations of what "grieving" is supposed to look like. (After all, I had never before lost the love of my life.) I need to be strong. I need to move on. I need to not be a victim. I need to thrive at this being alone business in order to prepare myself for when "my cells dance." Or so I or others (with perhaps, just perhaps, a bit of projection on my part) have told me.

But then friends remind me that it's okay to be merely human, to feel what I'm feeling, to not chastise myself for not foreseeing when and from where the next wave of grief will come. And then I remind myself that the greatest love I've ever known came into my life without me having to do a single thing except respond to an invitation to lunch and be myself (after which, my cells danced off the charts). With these reminders, I'm ready to pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep going. 

Perhaps someday, when I'm ready, I'll watch the second half of "Manchester By the Sea."