Last night, friends and I watched George Clooney's The Descendants, a story about a family in the process of losing their wife and mother. The impending death provides the opportunity to untangle a jumble of emotions - grief, anger, loss, betrayal, sadness, hurt, regret, thankfulness. Unruly and at times unwelcome, each makes its presence known, demanding both an acknowledgement and a response.
All of us yearn to love and be loved deeply, and because of that openness and need, it is the relationships we care about most that not only bring us our greatest joys, but also deal us our deepest wounds. Still, as a friend said after the movie, by watching the complexity of other relationships, at times we can see the truth about someone who has hurt us in the past, and recognize that things are not as simple as they seem.
It's the awareness of these inner complexities that anchors the following poem by Robert Hayden. Sometimes the contradictions between longing and hurt, between love and anger cannot be resolved. We state the truth: the consistency of "banked fires" blazing, or good shoes being polished (and all without thanks), but we state with equal certainty that "chronic angers" produced a cold that was never splintered or broken.
And yet, even these truths are not the end of the truth-telling. That, too, must be acknowledged, for what do we really know of another? The whole truth, like life itself, remains unfathomable
Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?
Note: The painting above shows Kokoschka and his lover Alma Mahler as a shipwrecked pair in stormy seas. "He satisfied my life and he destroyed it", Mahler is quoted as saying. Born in 1886, the Austrian painter, poet, and playwright is best known for his intense expressionistic style.