I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
I have a friend who said she can watch any TV show or movie as long as nothing even slightly bad happens to animals or children. I can take it one step further and say, I’d rather just watch anything that was made for children, preferably starring animals. My husband jokes that I have the taste of a twelve year old. And I do. I crave tenderness, clean sarcastic jokes, and earnest witty dialogue. I even like it when someone learns a lesson. Especially if that person is the bad guy.
How many of us learned that big lesson of mortality from our childhood books or films? I remember my entire fourth grade class sobbing in unison, heads on our desk, at the end of the book Where the Red Fern Grows. There was a time where I felt like shouting, “Ok! I get it! We’re all going to die!”
And still the biggest lessons came outside the book or film, when I watched a parent or a teacher or my older brother become moved by something. It was one thing to learn our lessons, but it was another to realize that the lessons never stop.
That’s the beautiful thing about time. We are always experiencing so much at once. It’s amazing we can carry it all. There are days, many of them even recently, when I’ve wanted to return to those kinder movies and books of my youth. In them, death is an allegory and everything ends in a joyous song. I don’t think it’s so bad to desire that reversal, to want comfort, (and) want something easy especially when nothing feels easy. What surprises me is that the lessons still hurt, can still move me to tears, even when I know they’re coming.
In this powerful poem by Sarah Freligh, she writes about her mother reading E.B. White’s book Charlotte’s Web out loud. In this meticulous and gorgeous remembering, she shows us how the necessary lesson of grief can return throughout our lives.
by Sarah Freligh
I’m driving home from school when the radio talk turns to E.B. White, his birthday, and I exit the here and now of the freeway at rush hour, travel back into the past, where my mother is reading to my sister and me the part about Charlotte laying her eggs and dying, and though this is the fifth time Charlotte has died, my mother is crying again, and we’re laughing at her because we know nothing of loss and its sad math, how every subtraction is exponential, how each grief multiplies the one preceding it, how the author tried seventeen times to record the words She died alone without crying, seventeen takes and a short walk during which he called himself ridiculous, a grown man crying for a spider he’d spun out of the silk thread of invention — wondrous how those words would come back and make him cry, and, yes, wondrous to hear my mother’s voice ten years after the day she died — the catch, the rasp, the gathering up before she could say to us, I’m OK.
"Wondrous" by Sarah Freligh. From How To Love The World. Used by permission of the poet.