Last Ash Wednesday, my brother sent a text asking what my spiritual goals were. I wrote back, “stay alive.”
I was lying in my best friend’s bed in Chicago, so depressed I could barely move my fingers, but I vividly remember answering his text, then scrolling through the weather app on my phone to see the high that day would be -1. For the last time, I checked the weather in Louisiana, then deleted it from my locations.
I was pretty much crazy with grief and felt that even a cartoon image of a round yellow sun was mocking me.
My best friend brought me a fried egg and sat on the edge of the bed to make sure I ate it. She took care of my kids and told me to rest, though I couldn’t sleep. I guess at some point we must have bundled against the cold and walked to Mass to get ashes–there’s a picture of us with our foreheads smudged–but I don’t remember any of it. Only the weather app, the egg, and the text to my brother: stay alive.
I didn’t really want to stay alive, but I knew that I had to. Even if I was going crazy, I didn’t want my kids to suffer the grief I’ve lived with my whole life. I didn’t want to perpetuate the pattern that began with my mother’s death, or maybe long before then. Who knows? Some new scientific study suggests that the Old Testament writers were right about the sins of our ancestors being visited upon us. We pass trauma on with our genes. Maybe there’s no stopping it, and we’re all living out stories set in motion long before we were born. But I don’t need science to tell me what the Greek poets knew: we repeat ourselves. Despite our best intentions, we fall into the very traps we are determined to avoid.