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The human definition of the natural world is always going to be too small, because the world’s more diverse and complex than we can ever know. We’re not going to comprehend it; it comprehends us.
Early one morning in September, when our house is pitch-dark and the entire family is still asleep, my husband, Ismail, sits upright at the first sound of his alarm, dresses quickly, and leaves our bedroom.
In the late seventies, as a teenager growing up in a sheltered suburb of San Francisco, I stumbled upon a paperback that introduced me to people I’d rarely read about. The book’s title, Working (New Press), was inscribed diagonally in bold black letters across a scarlet cover, and inside were interviews with a hundred hardworking people, from a footsore waitress to a gas-meter reader dodging canines.
How can one accept — let alone enjoy — aging in a culture where God is twenty-five; where advertisements are filled with twenty-somethings in halter tops and tight t-shirts, unless the ad is for a drug to treat incontinence, high blood pressure, or elevated cholesterol? What about the wisdom of age? What about endurance? What about the beauty of a face etched by years that were not always easy?
To everyone’s surprise, wildlife abounds in the deserted environs of the doomed [Chernobyl] nuclear plant. Elk, wild pigs, wolves, and rabbits all seem to be flourishing. These animals have somehow learned to cope with the high levels of radiation. Who knows, perhaps there are mutations: A pig that can climb. A rabbit with a prehensile tail. An elk with a unicorn’s horn. Cells are quick-change artists. Life loves life. Humans may end, but the world won’t.
Yes, illness and grief were a part of us, indefinitely — but so, too, were love and the ability to listen and learn over time, however long that might be.
Occasionally I came across people who’d had the experience of losing someone whose death made them think, I cannot continue to live. I recognized these people: their postures, where they rested their eyes as they spoke, the expressions they let onto their faces and the ones they kept off. These people consoled me beyond measure. I felt profoundly connected to them, as if we were a tribe.
I suppose it might make sense at this point in my life — with a wife and a son and long afternoons of contentment drawn around me — to disavow my passion for Solange. Or, at the very least, to relinquish her memory. But you don’t relinquish anything when you’ve fallen in love, no matter how briefly. The heart writes in indelible ink.
Happy and content one day,
ambition and desire eat you alive the next.
It’s always been this way. Back and forth,
back and forth. That’s the way it goes.