I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
~ from “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens
I discovered Stevens’s poem in high school. I remember being especially taken with this choice between inflection and innuendo, “the blackbird whistling or just after.” It was something I liked to contemplate.
What brings the most pleasure: the experience itself or thinking of the experience after it has concluded?
There are days now when I long for “inflection,” for new sounds and new experiences: a phone call, a fresh anecdote, a new silly story or cool story or “typical” Camila story. This is one of the reasons I seek opportunities to talk about Camila: the hope that a new anecdote will present itself through others so that I can experience anew the pleasure of reflecting on her personality, her character – her life. Every parent longs to talk about their child but none more so than those who have lost their child. And that is where I am tonight, longing to talk about Camila, longing to hear a story.
I have always known that innuendo was the winner in Wallace’s riddle: memory lasts much longer than the experience itself. Anticipation, though often drawn out, is never the clear reward, and living in the moment, while it has its rewards, offers only short-term pleasures. Savoring the experience is sweeter, a nectar we can sip again and again.
I am learning this every day.
Today was a beautiful day, a sunny blue day. There was a light breeze, the clouds were high and round. I remember standing outside Costco – Costco – and thinking, “What a beautiful day.” And in the midst of that reflection, right in its center, was an admission that life is wonder-full. If I can tap into that outside a Costco warehouse, there has to be some truth to it, right?
Of course, this is the direction my mind moves now, now that I have lost my child. It seeks out hard truths, looks incessantly for absolutes. It is my mind’s way, I suppose, of keeping me grounded. It is something it now does instinctively, filling some kind of unspoken need: Convince me, my heart says. I will, my mind answers.
As everyone in the circle knows, it is sometimes hard, even hurtful, to admit that life itself is sweet. How can life be sweet without my dear beloved daughter, the love of my mother-heart, my girl, my sweet Camila? What could life possibly offer if it cannot offer even one more day of my daughter?
These are the thoughts I have to survive.
But life, generous life, forces its way in, into my consciousness, into my body and bones. As ever, beauty comes in at my eyes and goes straight to my heart. Because life is beautiful. Living has pleasures that cannot be denied: Look! The breeze is moving through the trees. Look! The sandpipers are standing at the water’s edge. Look! There is a group of birds gliding on a thermal. – And Look! A child stoops to pick up a stone. – And Look! A grandmother takes her grandchild’s hand.
Even those images of children and grandchildren can offer me pleasure. All I have to do is connect to the feeling that presses against my chest. I have come to understand that this feeling is not always pain; it is akin to muscle memory: It is my body’s response, recognizing and remembering love.
So often, loving Camila and loving life felt like the same thing: sweet sips from the same cup. I loved being her mom. In a similar sense, continuing to love her seems to help me continue to love life.
And life is all there before me. Stepping back into the beauty of the world allows me to have contact with the very things I remember: the sweet and simple pleasures of life, so many of which I shared with my daughter. Each one reminds me of life’s sweetness – and that leads me right back to memories of my motherhood: life’s most rich recollection.
Innuendo enough to feed my heart forever.