|Photo: Todd Doherty|
We received word last week that our future colleague, Genevieve Critel, died in her sleep last weekend. She was only 32 years old. We had hired her for a tenure-track position in Writing Studies, and she was our unanimous first choice (something that NEVER happens!) We were all so happy when she chose us, and she was so happy we had chosen her. We didn't really know Gen, but we felt her so strongly as already a part of our community. Her death left us breathless.
Then a former colleague's husband, also fairly young, died a few days later of cancer. And then over the weekend, the entire WWU community heard of the death of a student--a young man, an English major--by suicide.
In the midst of all this, a gunman kills five people in a cafe in Seattle.
What does one do in the face of this suffering?
I found myself burrowing deep inside, and yet at the same time, hungry for connection. Wanting just to touch people, see their faces, pat their heads to remind me they're still here. And yet I wanted to be very alone. To breathe. To sit with the knowledge that all our clocks are ticking down.
The origin of the word somber means "to cast a shadow." Somber is not a word I have occasion to use very often, but it's the word that kept ringing in my head all weekend. Somber. Like a gong. The reverberations shook me. I felt shadowed.
Then, yesterday, I started coming out of it. I could feel it, literally, in my body: a lightening. I'd like to think it's because I wrote most of the weekend. Or because I gave a reading as part of a benefit concert where I heard all kinds of women singing their hearts out. Because I understood, then, art as a deep kind of solace.
But it might not have been any of those things. It might have been just the natural progression of grief.
Sorry for the morose letter to you today. But where else can I be my authentic self than here, with you? Dear reader, what do you do when faced with emotions you can't really name? How do you live within them?