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an unmappable country

Have you ever heard a child cry for its mother? Today I heard a 15 year old girl cry for hers. But her mother is dead.

The service is in Korean. I understand not a word but understood anyway. That’s child’s crying digs right into my heart. And I learn the Korean word for mommy. It sounds something like umma.

The girl leans forward. Her ponytail falls forward between her knees. Friends, family member perhaps, sit her up. I don’t know where to look. I look at the five tissues I’ve mashed between my fingers.

The son sits up straight, crying. I can’t hear him but his jaw jerks to the side.

If I told you to sit still, right now, at your desk or wherever you are, and tell me where the air is that you are breathing… That’s what this pain is like. You can’t see it. You can’t feel where it is coming from. But it is all around you and inside you all the same.

At least, that’s how I felt when my mother died. I imagine it is how these children feel, except their mother chose to leave them. And you can’t believe you aren’t going to feel this way forever.

The girl leans back in the pew, her eyes close. “Umma,” she says.

Loss is an unmappable country and when you first arrive it is always dark.

So now that I’m home and hours have gone by since the funeral, I wonder why I worry whether my writing is any good. I want to write. I do write. I will always write. And I like what I write. Do I have to be so bloody neurotic about it?

10 thoughts on “an unmappable country

  1. Personal neuroticism seems so pale in the face of massive grief like that you describe, or massive pain like the Haiti earthquake, especially when it relates to something as intangible as writing. And yet…I am coming to realize how very much other people’s writing means to me and so I need to think of my writing as part of that conversation.

    It’s like the way so many women related to _Eat, Pray, Love_. Many women said that they completely understood Elizabeth Gilbert’s experience, but weren’t able to give it language. They felt empowered by sharing Gilbert’s insight.

    • I certainly believe writing can be important in the midst of grief. But I should lose that neuroticism.

      It is an amazing feeling when you find that writer who puts your feelings into words you couldn’t manage. I haven’t read Gilbert’s book, but I watched her TED Talk, which I thought was great.

  2. “Loss is an unmappable country and when you first arrive it is always dark.”

    This is one of the most beautiful lines I’ve ever read.

    It’s true Marta- part of getting older means having more experience of grief- both one’s own, and that of others. The gift is, we get to let go of the things that used to tie us up in knots, like “should I write- do I have the right to write- can I write” and so on. Perspective shifts, and it can be very freeing. It frees us to share our gift with the world, as you do here. Thanks for writing.

    • I’m glad you liked the line. I confess that this is one of the few (very few) lines I’ve ever written that I didn’t want to change.

      Thank you, Sarah.

  3. It really is an unmappable country and you expressed that so beautifully. I don’t care what the psychologists say – we all deal with grief in our own way and time. It is a universal language common to all of us, but it is also the most personal of emotions we will ever experience.

    I have likened it to becoming an amputee. Part of me is missing now, and this is my new normal. The pain becomes a part of who and what I am.

    Clearly this has affected you deeply, caused a shift in your perspective of things. Perhaps it will help if you write about that. Not everything you write has to be fiction or fairy tale, does it? You can also write about life. You have done a touching job of it here, why not continue?

    • Thank you, Darcs. If it had map, it would be unreadable and without a compass. Yes, we all have to find our own way in our own time.

      We’ll see where this takes the writing. Every event offers a new direction.

  4. I like your description of the pain someone feels at loss. There’s no explanation, no real suitable words for it. The way you captured it here is fantastic. At that moment you cannot believe for even a moment it will not always be this way. Perfect.

    Well said. Will you always be neurotic about writing? Only you can decide that. Try as much as I might, I can’t ever just stabilize in my belief about writing. No one can convince me. No one can affirm me enough. Maybe that’s just how I am.

    And I can’t imagine this isn’t how it will always be. But then maybe someday the country will be mapped, and I’ll know.

    • I don’t think neurotic thinking has an off switch. It won’t go away tomorrow. But I hope I keep things in perspective.

      Thanks to you for your comment, Darc.

  5. So sorry I haven’t been able to spend time here over the last few days. And yes, I know you understand, but I still regret it. (Especially because I’ve been reading your Twitter and FB status reports about this incident.)

    I’ll add my own belated smile and praise to the pile of others about that line (includingly — astonishingly 🙂 — from you yourself). I really like that you buried it within the post, rather than hammering it into a “glory position” at the beginning or end.

    You already know, as well as anybody, the high regard in which I hold your writing and storytelling. I think neurosis is just one price the world is exacting for the gifts you carry, y’know?

    • Of course, I understand, but you are missed.

      I debated whether to admit being happy with my own line. In the spirit of trying to be less neurotic though, I thought it might be okay. Just this once.

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