Last week was one of those perspective-shifting, drop-everything-and-evaluate-what’s-important kind of weeks. My mother unexpectedly had a heart episode/attack that landed her in the hospital waiting for open heart surgery. I had visited my parents only the Saturday before so we could all go to a local music festival together and enjoy one of the last nice summer weekends as a family. The night before she went to the hospital, she had been texting me, and everything was normal. What they say about how “life happens when you’re busy making other plans” is painfully accurate. A moment is long enough to change anything and everything.
On the trip to see my mom and be with family, I thought a lot about how even writing can’t quite peg the range of emotion a person goes through when faced with the potential/reality of losing a loved one. You need context to grasp the essence of what a person means to another person. You need history. To describe any such emotion without the aid of narrative and plot is to leave out levels of complexity, nuance and dynamic that make that difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.
Luckily, on this same trip, I was listening to the audiobook version of To the Lighthouse. Virginia Woolf captured what I wouldn’t be able to say in a blog post - and possibly in anything I write - about life and the daily struggle to make meaning of our purpose, the way life changes over time, and our fragile relationships with others. It’s pure serendipity that To the Lighthouse found its way to my car and helped me get through that tough week.
There were many moments during my ride when I wanted to stop and record beautiful lines of text to come back to later, but couldn’t, because - of course - I was driving. I will have to buy a hard copy and comb through the text again when I have more time. Below I have shared what I pulled out by searching for sections of the book online.
I also recommend reading To the Lighthouse in its entirety. In the same way that it is hard to describe grief with precision and without narrative, it is difficult to convey the beauty of this novel - Woolf’s depiction of everyday life and loss - through the lens of snippets and quotes.
“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”
"And suddenly the meaning which, for no reason at all, as perhaps they are stepping out of the Tube or ringing a doorbell, descends on people, making them symbolical, making them representative, came upon them, and made them in the dusk standing, looking, the symbols of marriage, husband and wife."
“So that is marriage, Lily thought, a man and a woman looking at a girl throwing a ball.”
“She felt... how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach.”
“No, she thought, one could say nothing to nobody. The urgency of the moment always missed its mark. Words fluttered sideways and struck the object inches too low.”
“Does Nature supplement what man advanced? Or does she complete what he began?”
“But this was one way of knowing people, she thought: to know the outline, not the detail, to sit in one's garden and look at the slopes of a hill running purple down into the distant heather.”
“And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees and changing leaves.”