23 May 2007

Magical Thinking

Last weekend was commencement at the University where I teach. One of my students, a very smart, committed young woman named Emily Zametkin, graduated and headed out into the world. She's been accepted into the Peace Corps. Earlier in the spring, just after my son Jeff died, Emily sent me a card along with a copy The Year of Magical Thinking, the book in which Joan Didion recounts her reaction to the death of her husband. This was, I believe, an incredibly sensitive and insightful gift. Thanks again Emily!

I finished the book this evening. In some ways Didion drives me crazy with her ability to insinuate the pretensions of New York intellectuals into her reflections. (Do we really care that she and her late husband had copies of Daedalus lying around the living room?) But she is a very good writer and also quite astute observer of the transformations and intricacies of her own cognitive and emotional states over the course of the year. In the final pages Didion writes this passage:

"I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to
keep them alive to keep them with us.

I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a
point at which we must relinquish the dead.

Let them become a photograph on the table."

Well, I know that Didion is right. But I am not sure how that can happen even though I know it will, somehow, someday. I have a wonderful photograph of Jeffrey but I don't see how he might become that photograph. Indeed, it seems to me like magical thinking to imagine the day he might become that photograph instead of the photograph being of him. There are lots of days ahead.

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3 Comments:

Blogger EM said...

Thanks for the shout out! I was so happy you got to meet my crazy, crazy parents at graduation. Best of luck to you! I will stop by next time I head up to Rochester!

23 May, 2007 22:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didion is right... and wrong...

It does happen sometimes that the dead become photographs, and just that. It lasts for a while, but then the wind blows, and leaves rustle, and they are right back with you. Not as close as one would want them to be. But they are there.

Best wishes for you in the many days ahead.

24 May, 2007 04:32  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Letting go is a survival strategy--if one needs to let go to survive/heal, by all means, do that. But that is not the case for everyone -- for some, NOT letting go is what gets them through everyday...and that's just fine. Grieving is such an individual experience that one has to deal with it in her own way. Jim, you are doing it in your own way...

28 May, 2007 18:59  

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