Grief is nostalgia without the years.
It is nostalgia that holds both the past and the future in mind simultaneously.
The uncomfortable feeling you have when you revisit a childhood school, town, or home you grew up in (watching an episode of The Wonder Years produced a similar feeling)- magnified. Instead of finding the nostalgia in a place you haven’t been in years, you find it and feel it in your present life, in your own home, in your own bed…on day one…on the day of the phone call.
Some days I wonder when these waves of grief-nostalgia (a new word) will not infuse and permeate my every task. I oftentimes dress in it in the morning or at night time- in the black-checkered shirt that you brought me from Korea, or the floral flannel pajama pants you gave me for our last Christmas together.
I walk in it on each NYC street and corner- the upper west side where we recorded our CD every Saturday for a year or more and grabbed a chicken sandwich at the small rotisserie place below the studio- the spot below your building on 6th Avenue where I’d often call you and stand waving as I told you to look out your office window- the concrete slab on Broadway where we sat during our lunch break to celebrate my acceptance into graduate school- and every spot where you reached out your hand silently for mine and we went on our way, to meetings, dinners, gigs, Bible studies, concerts, plays, on buses and trains and on foot.
Of course, we met at the Columbia campus, spent a New Years’ eve in Central Park, and got engaged at Grand Central. All of these are nostalgic- and that’s a given. But it’s the feeling I get on just about every other corner or block- not necessarily even remembering something specific, but just knowing- that we were there together – on an average day. When you were alive.
I recently read a quote by writer Pete Hamill from his book “Downtown” regarding New York City which he refers to as “the capital of nostalgia,”: “New York teaches you to get over almost everything…Irreversible change happens so often in New York that the experience affects character itself. New York toughens its people against sentimentality by allowing the truer emotion of nostalgia.”
Grief, is a city unto itself, where one knows from the very beginning that you will not stay in the same rental there- even if you wish to. It is the opposite of the sentimental sympathy cards you receive. It is the grime and smell of black garbage bags piled high on sidewalks, hot air coming out of subway grates as you step over, it is walking down streets you’ve walked down many times before that now have different restaurants and residents and now appear quite a different place- except you know that you were there.
In the beginning grief is so loud. It is the unutterable words of keening and agony of the goneness coming out with sounds like those in childbirth. Later it is like the two crowds of people crossing a city street towards each other, thoughts hammering to make some sense out of it. Then, maybe out of sheer exhaustion, it becomes quiet. Not like the earth under newly fallen snow- but like an old reel of film playing a slideshow of videos from long ago- with no sound but that of the hot projector whirring.
I am dangerously close to two years and still most everything I touch, think, every place I go, is laden with you. I am glad of that. As emotionally draining as an average day is…I am glad of that. Because, I know, the years are chasing me down.
Time is not a healer, what it does is bring the years that make the pain less on top of itself. What it does is water down the concentrate and little by little take away the infiltration of grief-nostalgia in the every day tasks- not because it has healed- but either by the inevitable change of places and objects you come across, or by the cruel loss of memory. “Time itself,” writes C.S. Lewis, “is one more name for death.”