Migraines, Faulkner, and Love

Saturday night and Brooke is in bed: she successfully fought off a migraine tonight, icing her head and taking magnesium and resting in the dark. Migraines are rare for her, but she has had symptoms that often accompany one a couple times this week. I do not like this, and she does not like this. Still, we go on.

Sometimes, when life is going well, Brooke and I talk about how things will turn soon. I do not know if we are realistic or fatalistic or simply pessimistic, but we all know what it is to fear. There is something about growing older — maybe it is becoming a parent — when you realize how tenuous this life is, how delicate or even flimsy. We slough off our idealisms of adolescence and understand something of the tragedy in life. It comes in the form of a daughter born two months early, a miscarriage, and migraines during the subsequent pregnancy. Brooke and I generally mention our fears in passing, with ludicrous affect: “Can you believe I think about this?”

Except, when the sun shines on the other side of the world and there is that time of stillness between day and sleep, we all think about this.

There is little we can do. Write. Pray. Drink. And while only one is guaranteed to make you forget your worries — at least for a time — it isn’t the forgetting that we need. It does not help us to shut out the world and pretend it isn’t.

We become like Miss Emily Grierson — a woman who shut out the world and the change that it entailed, who could not quite acquiesce to death. To loss — the loss that change inevitably brings, that life inevitably brings. So, she poisoned her lover and spent the rest of her years locked away from the town, sleeping next to his corpse. Faulkner writes to wrestle with the change and loss that attended the early 20th century, and chronicles the horrifying fate of those who cut themselves off, who try to negotiate and manage loss.

We see the same idea throughout the Psalms: these poems where people cry out to God, facing loss and dislocation, alienation, abandonment, disillusionment. These poems are not so much about grand questions of suffering as they are desperate attempts to hold onto God, to find not so much relief as transcendence. We see, even as the Psalms chronicle events from David’s life, a “passion” of David: a willingness to suffer, to be vulnerable, to let suffering change and grow that man who would then, because of such suffering, be more able to change others. It is the opposite of Miss Emily Grierson, and an embrace of suffering in all the forms the world can hand out — not necessarily in a masochistic sense — but in a sense that moves beyond a human-centered or anthropocentric view of this world.

I still do not know what to do with suffering. I write. I pray. I read great books and listen to music; I talk with friends, listening to heartbreaking stories, finding a few sad stories of my own. Sometimes, I read poetry. Sometimes, I try to forget it all and watch television. But tonight, as Brooke said she saw flashes, we turned off the lights and I took Ellis upstairs. I read her a story. She kept reminding me “Mommy is sick.” We prayed, together, for Brooke. Then I came downstairs and gave Brooke the gentlest backrub I could, so I would not ever shake her head, but simply touch her shoulders while I prayed to our unseen God, to love my wife well and let my fears melt like the ice that was on her neck.

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