Then something happens, and we have no choice. My “something” was in 2000 and Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer. During the year her diagnosis became grim. I had to confront my worst nightmare: I would have to hold Susan’s hand as she took her last breath. I have since written a play about that time, which if you are reading this blog post you probably know, called The Actual Dance.
The scene in the play is when I step forward and speak the words: “I cannot imagine that I can do what I know I have to do.”
My play has a happy ending. I didn’t “have to” do that. Susan has recovered and is a long-term survivor of her very aggressive and extensive breast cancer. She is an outlier in probability terminology. She isn’t supposed to be here. With no better explanation than the grace of faith in something beyond us, I do NOT know what it would be like to be torn away from the person who was destined to be my soul mate in life. Who, in the play, I refer to as “the other half of my whole.” Today, we are about to celebrate 52 years of marriage.
It is through this lens that I now am experiencing the current national upheaval over the separation of children from parents at our border with the prospect of the parent never seeing the child again. I wonder if there is a ritual for that. The metaphorical “Actual Dance” is about the loss of a person with whom you have had a deep love relationship. It imagines the ritual as waltzing in a brightly light Ballroom surrounded by everyone one you have ever known and loved, not just in this life time but in the generations before and after, wrapping you with their love as you elegantly and boldly dance to the tune of the song of your collective choice as your life’s partner slips away from your arms into that white light of eternity.
Of course, sometimes it happens differently. The phone rings, there’s been an accident. A shooting. The unimaginable becomes real as you race to the scene or to the hospital. Yet ultimately this is an eternal cycle and we seek to find a new wholeness in life without that loved one.
As we experience the separation of children from parents at our borders a new and different dimension to the horror of an “unimaginable thought” takes shape. In the play the opening scene portrays THE moment, and the line is: “There is an end to the music, there is an end to do the dance. …. The ballroom sits achingly, intolerably empty, silent, almost in black and white. Hallow.”
What we have now, though is the intolerable situation of not-knowing. What could be worse than the loss of the loved one? What could be worse than holding your soulmate, your life-partner, your spouse, your parent …. your child as they take their last breath?
I suggest what is worse is someone taking them away from you and you never knowing their fate. If they are discovered and within a few weeks or months parent and child, husband and wife, are reunited there will be joy. The pain one could argue is compensated with an ecstasy of a happy ending.
My experience in life does include being in the company of a dear friend in the days after the loss of a child. It was and still is the worst pain that I have ever seen. I want to say even touched. I could feel the soul of another human being cry with unending pain. And in the mirror of life that lets us look back more than 20 years we get to consider the post-loss journey that eventually emerged even from this tragedy.
Separation I think is different. I do not have the experience nor am I in relationship with someone whose soulmate has simply disappeared: Ripped away with only unrequited hope for return that must be so often unbearable. There are parallels in war, of course, of those who are missing-in-action. Perhaps the pain is similar. And I think so much greater, because there is always a hope that gets dashed anew again and again. Maybe as often as the dawn of every new, lonely day.
My heart breaks for what I see. My soul wonders if my own redemption is jeopardized by a complicity of living in the time and in the place that perpetrates this horror.