Friday, October 19, 2007

The Meaning of Life

Surprise, surprise, I'm not a horribly religious person. I like to think of myself as an atheist who leans Buddhist. (I thought this was a really clever turn-of-phrase, until I read it in a NYT metro column when a guy referred to his dead friend as such. Ah well.) I never really much contemplated "the meaning of life" in the abstract, being all hung up with mine and all. I guess personally I thought I should maybe do something constructive outside of myself. You know, instead of just fulfilling my "to do list before I die" (run marathon? check. Dissertation? check. Mayan ruins? check. Sistine Chapel? check.) maybe I could do some stuff that would help others, or make some impact on the earth. Like, um, lessee . . . . well, ugh. Sure, I've done the serve Thanksgiving to the homeless, play music for the infirm, rescue animals, and donate money to a myriad of causes. I'm even in the process of exchanging my car for a hybrid. But nothing with impact. Well, ok, hopefully I've positively impacted some people I've run across (Mr. ABF, now would be a nice time to nod your head), and I certainly think being mom o' Bella has broadened my sense of how I can influence her and hopefully, thereby, others. Peace in your generation, girl! (NOW EAT YOUR FREAKIN' CHICKEN, YOU UNGRATEFUL LITTLE FART!!)

(Totally kidding.) (Pretty much.)

I have thought, though, that people have purpose, talents, gifts, no matter how small, and it's lovely when they share them with the rest of humanity. There are the biggies that have affected life as we know it like Jonas Salk. There are those who (used to) bring me joy like Kieth Haring and Joshua Bell. Then there are just the everyday people that make some small difference in your life, and that when strung together, maybe give it a bit of meaning. I'm talking about everyone from my old roommate who taught me how to make soup from scratch sans recipe, to my childhood violin teacher. Maybe you have some contractor who treats your house remarkably well and makes you appreciate it all the more. Or a regular at a store who has come to signify "it's Tuesday! Bet that gal smiles at me when I check out!" and realize that your Tuesday feels a little less Tuesday-ish when she isn't there. Reach out and touch someone, I say! Pass the Ball! Pay it Forward! Teach a man to Fish! And all that nonsense.

But I'm completely flummoxed when I try and figure out why Maddy was here, and what purpose her being here served. Other than to wreck my life totally, that is. She was here, but not really. She never opened her eyes (and she had glaucoma so opening them wouldn't have done much good anyhoo), and according the doctors, in all probability never heard us speaking to her, or felt us touching her. Minus a few minutes there, she never breathed on her own. She increasingly needed the assistance of drugs to keep from seizing, keep her blood pressure in order, and combat a raging acidosis. She would flinch at the light, and I swear move slightly (the first few days) to stabs in heel, so there must have been some nerve impulse somewhere in that sad body of hers accepting some faded signals. But let's face it: she lay there. She was beautiful, but she lay there. No smiles, no sighs, no handholding, no eating, no fight. Nothing. Am I glad I held her? Sure, from a maternal aspect, now that she was in front of me, helpless and all, yes I really am. But I'm not sure that's why she was here. Because it really didn't do me much good, apparently.

When I went to a support group after Maddy's death I was dumbfounded at how every parent seemed to have at the ready a significance as to why their child was here on earth, and a way in which their child had positively moved their life. To give me strength, to make me "believe" (whatever that meant, I'm still not sure), to show me love, to give me joy, and on and on and on. I asked bewildered when this came to them -- was it still too early in the process for me? Was it because I only had a week with her? Would this hit me like a bolt of lightning? At some point, say while out weeding, suddenly: "EUREKA! MADDY WAS HERE BECAUSE ___________!"? They rather stared at me on that one, and admitted they all had the answer pretty much immediately. Ouch.

I loved her, that much I know. I wanted her. I desperately willed her to be healthy, and then to live, and then desperately wished that she would go quickly and peacefully. But that and a few dollars will get me a Grande Caramel Latte. I'm really completely unclear as to what to draw from this life, and my reaction. When my husband says that he now has some new attitude because Maddy taught him "Life is Short," I stare as if he landed in my kitchen via alien space beam. How can he, who went through the same week I did, have received this incredible life lesson while here I am double checking to make sure he didn't just repeat my lesson, "Life is Shit"? Life is precious, he intones earnestly, and she was a fighter. To quote Graham Greene from "Thunderheart" (completely cheezy B-movie but I love Greene to pieces, and Val Kilmer's ass even more) complete with the narrowed eyes and the frustration, shock, disbelief, jealousy, and lack of faith in his own ability to have a religious epiphany, "You had a Vision. A man waits a long time to have a vision, and he may go his whole life without having one."

(We pause here to consider a '92 Val Kilmer in jeans.) (Take your time.)

I wanna vision. (Stamps foot.) I want desperately to believe Maddy was here for a reason. A GOOD one. A meaningful one. No matter how small. The best case fantasy I suppose is that some obscure scientist poking through her genetic makeup will discover her anomaly holds the key to diabetes. Or lactose intolerance. Oh hell, I'd settle for male-pattern baldness. But failing that, I'd like to think she changed my life for the better, or better yet, taught me a lesson in zen fashion. I'd love someday, while folding laundry, to suddenly lull into a semi-conscious state and experience enlightenment, thus realizing that shitty week with Maddy taught me patience, or kindness, or peace, or the "life is short" mantra, or even a way to rearrange my kitchen. I want her awful six days of existence on this planet to mean something. To Me. It doesn't have to mean anything to anyone else, or maybe it's already moved you to do something. But I don't think it's too much for a mother to ask for the meaning of her daughter's life. Because right now her life is nothing but a big week of sleeplessness, helplessness, despondency, heartbreak, and grief, and eight months of pretty much the same following.

One (if not The) essential tenet of Buddhism is Life is Difficult (or suffering, or whatever other grim synonym you'd like to place there). Now I suppose I should wholeheartedly embrace them ("Damn, y'all ain't kidding!") both on the account of my life as well as Maddy's. Or, I should denounce them wholesale, because if this is what they mean by difficult, they are a cruel bunch of sick sonnofabithces. Now more than ever when I ask "why" -- why she was here, why she died -- I need the Grim Reaper to show and bellow, "THE SALMON MOUSSE!!" Not horribly zen, but it would make my day.


Anonymous said...
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Tash said...

Seriously, spamming a grief blog? Do you sleep at night?

niobe said...

I'd probably cast my vote for the meaninglessness of life.

But that's just me.

Megan said...

I'm with Niobe. Meaningless is easier to accept than a universe, God, whatever that kills babies in order to teach their mothers life lessons.
I just cringe when other deadbabymamas – typically the ones who like soft-focus pictures of "angelbabies" – spout this shit.

Tash said...

I suppose you're right. I just feel like I'm missing out on something. Some party everyone forgot to invite me to. Maybe I just need to embrace the -lessness of it, not search for the meaning.

Megan, I'm with you. When searching for some reading on the subject I dismissed every single title with "Angel" in it. And boy, are there some doozies.

Searching said...

I wish I had an answer for you. Something. ANYthing. :(

It's something I think about alot. Why these wonderful perfect mommas have to go through XYZ and then their babies die. And crackwhoredrunk momma gets a perfect baby. It just infuriates me so I try not to think of the situation as much as I just focus on my babies and the families. I hate, hate, hate what some of those little ones go through. I just love my babies for however long they have on this earth. I'm sorry I have no answers for you.

Except the harder it is for me to find any info relating to Maddy the more it frustrates me which makes me all the more determined to find SOMETHING. (Needless to say, fruitless searches last night. More books to go though!). Little stinker. ;)

meg said...

I've tried looking for meaning, but it's all just so awful and there's so much loss in my life, that I just can't believe that there is any. I'm going with Niobe's meaninglessness of life, because I just have to believe that's how it works now.

Tash said...

Ok, I hear what y'all are saying, and maybe that's where I'm headed. I agree with Megan that is easier to accept and just deal with/fill the hole, than set off on some fruitless journey. BUT, I do have a couple mental roadblocks, so let me riddle you all this (and believe me when I write things, I am SO NOT being facetious -- I really would like to know what any of you think): If life is meaningless, why are we mourning? Are you mourning the life lost, or the awakening that life is meaningless (or both)? Does life being meaningless proclude you from trying to have another child/become a mom? If not, why? I'm just trying to satisfy some nonsensical optimistic iota of my brian here. Many thanks for all of your comments and just being here.

Megan said...

I think we can make our lives meaningful – but they're not intrinsically so. Nietzsche (sorry to dig out this hoary old cliche) wrote that he who has a why to live can bear almost any how. My "why" at the moment is having a baby who lives.
But I violently reject the idea that some force, whether it's God or fate, is organizing my life and I need to discern the meaning in it.
But believing there's no reason for what has happened to me doesn't stop me from rages in which I demand to know why? why? why? –

Tash said...

Got it. No, I'm really not into the organizing force thing either -- totally willing to accept that we're all here by some kooky freak twist of nature. I guess I just hate to think I wasted 9 months plus 6 days of my life for NOTHING. Would like some personal or other significance there. Ah well.

Megan said...

Tash, I really know how you feel.
I've been pregnant for a total of 49 weeks and I often think I have nothing to show for it.
It really isn't my nature to extol the virtues of positive thinking but it helps to remind myself that I don't wish she'd never been born. I love her and I'll keep loving her forever – even if we were both briefly on this planet only thanks to some primordial ooze that got lucky.
Giving you a virtual hug.
Back to being a cynical, foul-mouthed bitch now...

Tash said...

Thanks. Good reminder that I need to pack some more profanity into my upcoming post.

kate said...

Five years later i still struggle with this, and i think i will always do so.

There was something beautiful someone posted once about my struggle on this question, unfortunately it was on a blog that is no longer up. I printed it out for Nicolas' scrapbook (which does not actually exist yet, ha ha) but if i can find a copy on my machine i will email it to you.

Sorry i am so late in my pathetic response.