The Backpack

16172_man_carrying_huge_rock.jpgThe other day, a post-Maggie friend asked how I became so well adjusted, having put all the stuff that happened behind me. I was careful not to snort my drink through my nose upon hearing her well-intended question; such a reaction might have been confusing to her. When I asked what she meant, she described how she thought I had such a great perspective. Ah, perspective, my consolation prize.


It’s been more than five years now since the last day I kissed my lovely wife. She’s been physically absent from my life now more than half the total time we were together. That makes me sad. How can it be possible for my heart to hurt still so much? Of course (and thankfully), it hurts now less than it did. And it hurts indescribably way less than it did watching her slowly grow ill and eventually die. That’s perspective, too.


The oddest things strike me now. For instance, I get very confused about which TV shows we used to watch together or which movies she had seen. My brain innocently assumes that if I had seen them, then so had she, magically ignoring any minor little details about timing. My brain still has us inexplicably woven together and creating memories. Oh, silly, silly brain.


I have different friends now. Sometimes I can’t recall which of my friends had known her, which can create some remarkably uncomfortable social situations, especially with post-Maggie friends that never even knew I was married. Oh, silly brain.


How is it possible that my brain can’t keep these things straight? I’m pretty darn clear on when the “with Maggie” time transitioned to the “without Maggie” time. Despite that crystal clarity, the crisp edges of truth blur as if somehow my sanity is protected by gentle reminders that these little things don’t matter. Does this mean I’ve reached some state of acclimation to the New Normal? If so, I should get a sticker or something. Maybe I’ll make a t-shirt that says, “You think I’m awesome now? You shoulda met me before my wife died!” It’d be a big hit with a very select subset of society.


To my friend who asked how I seem so well adjusted, I asked her to imagine donning a new 250-pound backpack. For an unpleasantly long time, it’d be a dramatic struggle to grow new muscles and learn balancing skills. But with determination, help from friends, and hard work, she’d learn to walk, run, and maybe even dance again. Eventually she’d live a new type of life that only subtly hinted to that ever-present backpack.


Then I told her, you know those pesky rocks that life occasionally drops in your path - those little 1, 2, 10 and even 50 pounders? Those won’t seem like much of a big deal any more. In fact, most of them you won’t even notice.

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