The Shed

Today, we tackled the shed, a routine suburban act of tidiness for most couples. But the reason we hadn’t used most of the stuff in our shed since we moved in over a year ago is piled up against the back wall: the stroller, the diaper genie, the car seat, and the chest of drawers we refinished by hand, every drawer filled with baby clothes. We have been unable to have another child in the two-and-a-half years since the birth and death of our son, and today, we decided, in order to stop avoiding more than momentary forays into the shed for a critical item, that it was time to move the baby stuff into storage.

The chest, with all that it symbolized as an act of preparing for parenthood, we decided to set aside until we could find it a new home. That meant going through each drawer, re-packing the small hats and shirts and vests and the impossibly small socks. What got me was the smell. I realize that brand new baby clothes don’t actually smell like babies — it is, in fact, the other way around — but the two have become closely associated for me, and somehow my nose has secret wiring straight to my heart. I again recalled Keith’s post last year about the cap his son wore to keep warm, and how he and his wife tried in vain to hang on to what he left behind in that cap — his smell.

Moving the baby stuff offsite was also a way of accepting that we may not be able to have another child. Facing this has meant riding out a second wave of grief, with many of the same effects as when we first lost our son. In the past two-and-a-half years, many new people have come in to our lives — new friends, neighbors, and colleagues at work — who know nothing about our James. And so, I find myself, at times, living in two worlds at once. Occasionally, the disparity between what others can see, and what I carry inside, is brought into startling contrast by, for example, a giddy new mother, unaware of our past, eagerly accosting us about our plans for “starting a family.” I respond with a sheepish grin, and change the subject. They probably think this means I don’t like kids.

Life was never what we thought it was supposed to be about. A shed piled up with junk is about more than clutter. The name “shed” somehow seems fitting — as though I have cast off a heavy coat or, like a snake, shed a skin. Or reached, perhaps, a watershed in recovering from grief, choosing once again to direct myself, despite so much uncertainty and disappointment, toward renewal — and with it, a strange kind of hope.

The Likelihood of Hope

Keith Woodruff has a poignant article on his site about his new relationship to statistics since the passing of his son. I, too, have experienced a profound thinning of the security blanket of probability since our own loss. Every time I got on a plane to and from Oregon, I was keenly aware of how I now neither can nor want to go back to the kind of drowsy false security of my privileged first-world life; nor can I bear to live under constant threat in my mind.

Our nation likewise had the psychic fabric of its imperviousness rent by the attack on the Twin Towers by airplanes. It was an immeasurable tragedy. Yet other countries suffer such losses in greater numbers and more frequently; other families lose more children than those who see adulthood. How can we live, awake to such fragility, without, in the process, being crushed?

Poetry is a kind of faith. The audacity of poem-making, in a world saturated with throw-away words, a preference for television and music, and suspicious indifference to all but the ironic — is itself a profession of belief. To commit one’s life to this art in such times is as irrational as any religion. Truly, we write against the odds.

Tonight I have been reading the poems of Ilya Kaminsky — a Russian poet from Odessa, deaf since early childhood, who, a year after arriving in America with little English, lost his father suddenly. He writes about Mandelstam, Akhmatova and others who survived the un-survivable, writing poems for which they could be killed or worse. Here is a fierceness of faith in humanity. What we pass on to each other in such thin books of poems is some likelihood of greater self-understanding — and a precious likelihood of hope.