Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Point of Life is a Tilde

In the first months of grief, I wrote a poem of sorts that explores the "point of life." "Don't give me a circle, when I asked for a point," I shouted into space. I couldn't find a point to life, but had to reconcile that life continues and so does death, which brings me to a truth about loss. The bereaved as they struggle to make sense, find that concepts once thought to be mutually exclusive, are not, but rather co-exist and perhaps more shocking--are actually co-dependent upon one another. It's not a new concept, but when you live it and feel it and know it intimately, it's mind-blowing and well, quite exhausting.

In casual conversation and academic work, I've encountered Eastern "ying and yang" and Western "circle of life" ideals. And, recently, I encountered a scientific discussion of this phenomenon whereby the researchers posit that polarized concepts can be reconciled and that the symbol for that reconciliation is the tilde ~ or squiggle. The ~ illustrates the complimentary nature of what appears to be opposite ideas and concepts. We have a tendency to see things in pairs and to place each member of that pair in polar opposition to each other. I love the idea that researchers uncovered some evidence that life is more and/both than either/or.

Here are a few and/both points, I mean squiggles, that I've been thinking about: I am in a point in this grief journey where I feel and express joy and sorrow in the same breath. When we organized "Caitlin's Gifts," I did it both selfishly and selflessly. I needed a celebration and acknowledgment of my daughter's first birthday, but in planing her party and gifts, it was at the same time a selfless act of helping parents and children who were experiencing the trauma and stress of caring for a baby in the NICU. Perhaps the most powerful squiggle in my brain is the reconciliation of reason and religion in my life--I no longer have the need to choose a side, as both serve to aid in my healing and making meaning of my child's life and death.

And now for a bit of a non sequitur: I'd like to pass out squiggles to those in political parties for use when they label and stereotype and spew their either/or madness so we can live in a more peaceful and compassionate world.

I have my squiggle and I'm not be afraid to use it! Are you?


  1. DH and I were just discussing yin~yang, life~death and other once polarized opposites that have become joined in our lives. As you stated, after grief, the idea of life vs. death is not so clear now. It is more like life with death ~~~~~life from death~~~~~~death along side, always aware of life~~~~~~~

    I tend to think in colors and personify things like death and life. In this case I tend to envision a dark siloute, perhaps hooded holding hands with a white, flowered siloutte ~ walking along the path of life.

    Thanks for the squiggle, I am rather fond of it.

  2. Amy, I love the image your personification of life and death conjures. It's beautiful and fits so well.