Hangover

ImageHangover was Merriam-Webster’s word of the day today. I was struck by the first definition: “something that remains from what is past.” Further into the email, the word is glossed as “something that remained or simply survived.”

I was surprised by how many people chose to share the last entry I wrote, it being so bleak. One thing I took from that is there are more of us than I realized, perhaps, who know that no matter what Merriam-Webster says, there is nothing simple about survival. There is nothing simple about continuing to embrace the will to live.

Personally I take comfort in that. Strength in numbers.

Last night I was at a friend’s house. I only get to see her on holidays, really, and every time I go over there lately the family is larger: someone has gotten married, someone has had a baby. Now one of those babies has become a toddler, a source of much delight. His grandmother held out an animal cracker for him. He took it, then decided to give it to me. He wobbled over and handed it to me. This became a game, as his grandmother would hold out a cracker and tell him to give it to a different person each time. He would wobble over, take it, and wobble over to the person, no matter how far away they were.

This was an inexhaustible game, as most toddle-games are. There was never a flicker of irritation on his face when he was told to be a delivery man again. Nor did he laugh or squeal about it. He just took it and gave it, every time the same way. It occurred to me that if he had been faced with those million matchbox bulldozers I spoke of, he would have picked one up, moved it, and gone back for another, over and over and over. Watching him was the first time I really felt I understood the Buddhist concept of “joyful effort.”

There is also a newborn in that family. Now. There’s an old joke that people have kids so they can have something to talk about at dinner again. And I’ve made about every argument in the book against having children in a world like ours. But I cannot escape the fact that I woke up this morning with a pretty strong hangover. By which I mean there was something that was making me want to hang around, to come over again.

I realized I’d like to know what she will be like when she grows up. I’d like to watch her grow into the fine qualities of her family. I’d like to talk theology with her.

One of the Newtown-related articles that I liked best was written by Ross Douthat. He used Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” sequence from The Brothers Karamazov. It’s a passage that puts exquisitely beautiful and painful language to that question we were all asking weeks ago: why?

I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking the 20th century invented true horror, but the stories collected by Ivan Karamazov chilled even my cynical blood. A similar thing happened the other day while I was reading Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. In her discussion of Confucianism, a single sentence stopped me in my tracks: “In 260 BCE, the army of Qin conquered the state of Zhao…massacring four hundred thousand Zhao prisoners of war, who were buried alive.”

I had to read that twice.

Faced with this sort of thing, Confucians went back to a tradition started by men who “realized that the only way they could end the intolerable misery they saw all around them was by a huge intellectual effort that began with the transformation of their own selves.”

The other day, a friend asked me if I had a reason to keep living. You know, just over coffee. I thought about it, said a few things, and then said that I’d like to keep working on being a person. Because when you come right down to it, there’s a lot of work you can do there, every single moment.

It’s like in improv, which I’ve been practicing. Improv is all about the present moment, and how much work it is, really, to be in it. My teacher has this wonderful way of referring to “Partner” in the proper noun sense. She’ll say, “You really have to learn that it’s about making Partner look good. It’s about supporting Partner.” What can I do to make Partner’s work easier?

The secret you find out is that when you do that, it actually makes your work easier and enjoyable, and it makes you more present. And yes, you can both be doing it at the same time. Somehow it just works.

And when you’re at a dinner table with 7 or 8 Partners, as I was last night, there’s a smorgasbord of work to do, of support to give, of brilliance to uncover, and hangovers to give yourself.

The other day I went and had a psychic reading. You know, just over coffee. And when it was over, my reader said, “It’s 2013. No one expected us to make it this far. We really have a chance this year to show what we can do.”

I resisted rolling my eyes over over the 2012 apocalypse thing. And I’m glad I did. Because I keep hearing her say those words.

“No one expected us to make it this far. We really have a chance this year to show what we can do.”

We have remained. We have survived. We are each other’s hangovers.

Now let’s go get drunk.

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3 Responses to “Hangover”

  1. Alison Currie Says:

    I really liked this. For those of us who are recovering snobs and assholes and better-than-thous, working on being a person is a full-time job. Working on diverting selfishness, supporting people we like, being nice to people who are jerks, saying something nice about someone who isn’t in the room, learning to be kind instead of being right, and maybe the hardest part: forgiving ourselves when we fail at all this and end up being the loud drunk who wanted to talk politics…again. It’s a constant effort and there’s a lot of guilt and self-doubt involved. But it’s worth it, right? To be a little more of a person every day?

    • DG Says:

      You have said it so succinctly and accurately. Thank you. You’ve also ended on a question, which is where I find myself. I’m knee-deep in arguments from various eras and traditions that all say mindfulness is key; I just read Orwell on coal-miners, saying how little we remember that everything we do is because of them. And the question (mine, not Orwell’s) is, if we keep that in mind more often, will it work on us from the inside out?

      It’s important not to punish oneself inordinately for the inevitable minor failures that come every day on the road to being a person. At least everyone says that. Good luck with that too, right?

  2. Abigail Says:

    I miss your blog posts. I’ve started re-reading old ones, but it’s not the same. Come back soon? :)


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