I thought, right after I said it,
The “it” I’d heard myself say out loud was one word: “Heaven.”
I don’t believe in heaven. I don’t not believe in heaven either, though I’m doubtful.
I’d stepped out for a quick stretch-break from my laptop. I had an ostensible, wholly unnecessary task: carry recyclables to bin at the top of the hill, even though they wouldn’t be picked up for another four days.
But then I entered what lay right there, down the three bluestone front-door steps, out into early July in Vermont.
I said it. I heard myself (there was no one else around to hear). I may not believe in the afterlife, but surely if there is one it would be that state: perfection, complete, nothing lacking, unfiltered by mind, direct.
I can parse the elements of this intoxication now, though I couldn’t at that moment.
Bright sunlight. Galleon-like white clouds sailing across a bright blue sky. All that brightness; perfectly temperate, barely cool gentle flawless wind, riffling the trees and the mullein, herbs and lilac bush. The audible on-and-off brush of leaf against leaf, the wind-chimes chiming by the kitchen door, the finches piping, sounds as delicious to the ear as my skin, caressed by that light wind, was overjoyed.
Walking the hill, I recalled a moment of similar intoxication, in 2013. Z-Cat was still alive. I’d gone upstairs for an afternoon nap. That same living dream of Vermont summer time: perfect temperateness, pouring-in sunlight gilding dust motes. The cat there, sound asleep in a curled-up calico ball.
And I heard myself say, “Oh, Z-Cat, how did we get so lucky?”
But then, unlike this morning, on hearing these words emerge from myself, I felt not wonder but grief. It was only three years after Ned’s sudden death.
People commonly tell you you can get through it, “A breath at a time.” But each inhale and exhale was a scorch, a razor. It was a breath without him. It took me incrementally farther away from the time when he had been alive on earth.
In the warm, sunny, perfect bedroom that day, I dropped to my knees. I began to sob, there on the blue oval rag-rug.
How could it be, how could I possibly feel, even for a second, in the face of that vast amputation, his absence, knowing he would never again experience this sublimity of light, warm-cool air, sunlight, sleeping cat, how could I have, even for an instant, characterized myself as “lucky”?
The cat woke up, and, blinking, looked at me, kneeling on the rug.
Look. I worry about, and grieve for, this world a lot. Though I grieve the human-to-human tragedies (mass shootings, religious/racial violence, the thousand furies hatred unleashes), those I can kind of, sort of live with (as if I had any choice). But finally, it’s the grave imperilment to Earth that turns my heart inside-out and makes me glad I have neither children nor grandchildren, who will inherit so much less, in resources, in experiences, than we, the previous generation, did.
The death of a beloved person by “natural causes” is hard enough; the death of a class of people (to war, being in the wrong place or of the wrong color or religion or sexuality, at the wrong time) even harder.
The death of a species approaches unbearable.
But the death by poisoning of an entire planet and the loss of some, possibly all, of its species? The gradual slide towards an entirely preventable ecocide? That actually is unbearable.
Yet I bear it. Like you do.
I worry about about the small things too (small compared to the end of Earth, certainly).
Money. Outliving the man I now love. And if I reach extreme old age as my mother and aunt did, who will play for me the role I played for them, since I have no children? Should I continue to hold on to such a big piece of property in an extreme climate, given my age, income, and that I live alone? Given that my guy and I not only do not live together but have not made a permanent commitment? (Though what, one wonders at this age, does “permanent” even mean?)
But if there is no heaven, if the Earth does perish the slow death I fear, if there is no one and not enough money to protect me at my own life’s end, if and still, just this morning, for just a moment, I had enough.
Often, even when I personally am doing well and happily going about my business, I see earthly existence as fraught with terrible conflict, torment, suffering, and deepest injustice, which is often unaddressed.
But this morning, it was otherwise.
And if there is a heaven, may it be as it was in that moment, as it is here on Earth.