When Remy came to us, round-eyed and stubborn as ever, I wanted everyone to know him immediately, and I wanted him to know everyone in return. In my post c-section haze I sent out a mass message that said simply said, "Remy Kent Hoiland, friend to all, 3.19.2011." A funny introduction in the world? perhaps. But I wanted so badly for my son to be celebrated, and I wanted him to learn to celebrate others in return. Quite suddenly I went from my single entity to an extension of myself that meant so much more and I wanted the world's arms to be open to him. I wanted him to really feel that there are friends at every turn. I wanted people to lay claim to my celebration. And they did. People I could not have expected or predicted came into our life and loved my boy, and oh how I love them for that.
However, as I sit down to write, it is a heavy celebration on the eve of Remy´s third birthday. I received news of a friend, Andrew Ungerman, who took his own life. He was a boy I knew well for a time. Not the most well, by any means, but a boy I considered a friend and I think he would have thought me the same. He was Carl´s roommate for a time and while Carl is out on geology work without access to a phone, I know he will grieve at the news as well. I know and love Andrew's brother and his brother´s wife very much. I taught his sweet younger sister in a writing class one summer and Andrew came to hear her read her poems in my backyard. This is what I know of Andrew: He was a boy truly without guile, with a tender and unassuming heart. When I think back on time spent with him, I think of a grateful smile and a willingness to come. I remember him playing his guitar with his feet on the table, a cheap college apartment wall behind him, a harmonica around his neck. He knew a lot about everything and was always eager to hear about a project or an idea. I think of calm, and more than any conversation, I think of the comfortable and homey quietness he carried so well. I think of the way his older brother, Alex, protected him and they way Elisa cared so well for him. He was rare and kind and I know so loved.
I have struggled all day though in wondering what right I have to lay claim to sadness when the sadness of others is so much greater. For a moment I felt selfish for crying in the car while driving because who am I to take up this sadness? do I even deserve to? But as I stood at one end of the kitchen tonight and watched Remy wash whole avocados under the radiant light, then carefully dry each one and wrap it in a paper towel, I realized that I am everyone to feel grief because our sadness does not come from the shallow well of selfishness, but from a deep and rich well of empathy and love. I feel it now both for people who have gone and for people who are left behind, we all do. I think that just as we want others to celebrate with us, we need others to grieve with us. I think many of us, myself included are surprised and even scared at the depths the waters in this well of empathy reach to.
As Remy leaned his head back, eyes closed and chin to the air while I rinsed the soap from his hair in the bathtub, I realized that my sadness is not taking the space of those who feel it more intensely, but my sadness is the duty and price of being human, and what a beautiful and heart-breaking
thing that is.
As I lay next to the soft, slumbering body of my son in his narrow bed, I thought about celebrations and tragedies and how they are spinning like a wheel in all of our lives. I thought about how three years ago so many people truly celebrated a beginning for me and Carl because although they didn't know our son, they knew it was so important to us that he was carried on the hearts of his community. I cried some more next to Remy in thinking about how some of those same friends, with the exact same heart that celebrated, are mourning so deeply today. How is the heart is capable of stretching itself across incredible expanses to the very edges of emotion, both the happiest and the saddest, and somehow still have room enough to reside inside these flawed bodies of ours?
And so today, on Remy's third birthday, my heart will meet somewhere in that great and inexplicable meadow in-between happiness and sadness, somewhere between beginnings and endings and endings and beginnings. I don't quite know what I will find there, but I have a feeling there will be many friends, and hugs, and someday we will look back and maybe our sorrows and joys will make more sense. But maybe they won´t, and even then, we will still cling tightly to one another and search out the beauty.
* For the sweet Ungerman family, I'm so sorry for your loss.
I know I didn't know Andrew nearly as well as so many, but his life has touched mine for the better.