Books. And empty shoes.

28 Dec

Buccholz. Book


I am culling books… 

When I come upon a collection of essays by J.M. Coetzee titled Stranger Shores, that I haven’t looked at in quite some time and so had forgotten that it was given to me by my late husband, Arnie, on my birthday, March 15 2005. It contains a piece on Rainer Maria Rilke that sent me gratefully back to the poet, in the way that good essays always invite you somewhere beyond themselves.

The sight of Arnie’s handwriting initially startles, then its power to evoke the man takes over and I’m again lost in that peculiar presence of absence I’ve become familiar with since his death eighteen months ago, in which his absence has an energy vivid as any presence, and more vivid than some presences can ever be.

I’m reminded here of a conversation between myself and a woman in which she confided, in distress and anger, that her husband of some decades didn’t know her. I thought I’d seldom heard anything so sad about a partnership, and how lonely it must be to live a life in which one is not known, a life in which interest and curiosity in a partner is supplanted by assumptions and projections, and the familiarity that breeds contempt.

Not that it’s possible to conclusively know anyone: it’s the desire to engage in the project of discovery that speaks to me of enduring love. I’ve written more about the difference between familiarity and knowing here.

On the first page of Stranger Shores, Arnie has written of his love and affection in Hebrew. At least I’m assuming it’s love and affection as I know little of that language, and there’s what I’m taking to be a translation below the Hebrew that speaks in English of “my beloved wife.”

On the other hand, knowing him, the Hebrew could say anything.

The next thing I think of as I gaze at his spidery handwriting, held in place in my chair by the strength of the presence of his absence, is the haunting image of the empty shoes in Paris.

Empty shoes in Paris. 2015

The empty shoes represent an event that could not be held because of fear of terrorist attacks. They represent the dead and injured victims of those attacks. They symbolise the death of species, and the dying of our planet. They represent loss, and absence of all kinds. They symbolise the grounding of humans on this earth, a major point of contact with the planet, and they are empty.

And they remind me of how the sight of my husband’s empty shoes brought me to my knees, when I finally understood that I would never again see him in them.

I don’t know why shoes apparently carry so much more poignancy than say shirts, or jackets, or trousers. Yet, I remember also when my sons were small and at school how I would pick up their scattered clothing and smell it, to evoke their presence in their absence, a kind of preparation for the time when they would leave for their own lives and loves, and that intense period of mothering, about which I was frequently ambivalent, would be over.

There are other books “For my beloved wife.” One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty. Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Which book I remember him lugging to the hospital on Christmas Day where I lay recovering from drastic cancer surgery, too weakened to even hold the heavy tome, so he showed it to me instead, and read bits that fed my morphine-induced hallucinations and after he left I saw Jesus by the window in shining light, telling me everything would be fine, no worries.

I’m beginning to understand that the people I love never leave me, if I can only learn to allow them to stay. There’s a psychological theory that when we know we can’t be with someone anymore, for whatever reason, we cut off from them and deny their significance, as a way of managing in the long-term the complicated and initially crushing pain of loss.

It’s a sweet sorrow to be sure, to feel the presence of absence, whether that’s the absence of the dead, or the equally irretrievable loss of the little boy who is now a man, and quite rightly does not have need of you in the same ways any longer. They live, those vanished ones, in the memory and the imagination, they live in the body and the heart and the mind. They live in me, though I can’t touch them anymore, and their shoes stand so very empty.

The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you. Rainer Maria Rilke

20 Responses to “Books. And empty shoes.”

  1. MST December 28, 2015 at 10:26 am #

    Beautiful and thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • zerograv1 December 31, 2015 at 9:42 am #

      That piece was almost too difficult to read. I find myself sadly at the end of 2015 in probably the most lonely place I have ever been in having lost a parent, ended a relationship, living alone for peace of mind but feeling every echo-ing empty room. My biological immediate family lives thousands of kilometres away and outside of my budget capability to visit…..the year was too tough financially to visit or countenance a relocation. So Im going to spend New Years Eve not alone but join a local pub having music. I’ll be a face among strangers but will have to check my current nervous babble of talk to let others get a word in….Ive only just realised I was doing this and discovered what was beneath it – Im normally an excellent listener but not at the moment…..such a sad and lonely year despite putting my self out there in the world to try to turn it around……there have just been a few too many people die in my personal life this year…..only one of which I felt was a mixed relief and sadness to lose as they were a particular difficult personality and there was often not much love there between us….all others I try not to dwell on, I cant face my workplace with a tear streaked face,…it would only harbour unwanted questioning from the well intended but misguided and make it worse….meditation is helping to calm my emotions but I am aiming to be a much more complete, happy bouncy chuckling soul as my recovery goal….perhaps hoping for too much. Happy New Year all……I think Im going to turn off TV news, stop discussing futile political matters and the woes of the world and just do something, anything to get me out of this grey (not black thankfully) hole. Wish me luck – Im paddling as hard as I can.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jennifer Wilson December 31, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

        I do indeed wish you the very best luck, zerograv. And courage.


  2. paul walter December 28, 2015 at 9:16 pm #

    Fascinating and some times upleasant the way life will hold to its own trajectories despite the incovenience and worse it brings upon its subjects.

    My life has had none of the incessant ill fortune you read of, of the dirt poor living in war zones, in disease-riden slums.

    Yet there is karma..sooner or later something will occur that makes a mockery of all the previous diligent attempts to cover for all eventualities and this is the human lot only ameliorated by adaptability and the help of whoever youve not succeeded in alienating already in your life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson December 29, 2015 at 6:41 am #

      I often wonder about the ways in which humans attempt to “cover for all eventualities.” Many would have it that this is precisely the wrong thing to do, preferring an openness to experience without judgement of that experience.
      I still don’t know…


      • paul walter December 29, 2015 at 6:56 pm #

        Gee, am I glad you say you still don’t know. It is very disconcerting to think you are the only person without understanding amongst all those who acquired it and usually with such apparent ease.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson December 29, 2015 at 6:59 pm #

          Well, now I’m speechless


          • paul walter December 30, 2015 at 5:43 pm #

            There is a first time for everyting.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Jennifer Wilson December 30, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

              I just saw Star Wars & now I understand everything


              • zerograv1 December 31, 2015 at 10:41 am #

                Loved the tribute the latest Star Wars paid to its past….neatly wove in the old characters and not just as cameo roles either….Great screenscapes too ….Ive never been a Star Wars fan club member (It was ok but not my thing) but Im going to see this one again just to catch the bits I missed while my thoughts were elsewhere remembering

                Liked by 1 person

                • Jennifer Wilson December 31, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

                  Yes! That was so skilfully done, a highlight for me. And the tribute to the past when the old droid has the missing piece of the puzzle carried by the new droid – very clever.


              • paul walter December 31, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

                Had I known you were only seeking to understand everything, final meaning and so forth, I would have referred you to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

                The ultimate source for all meaning derives of the number 42..As all becomes clear, you realise you need to know no more than this..

                Liked by 1 person

                • Jennifer Wilson December 31, 2015 at 5:32 pm #

                  Well, PW, thanks for all the fish 🙂


                  • paul walter December 31, 2015 at 9:13 pm #

                    Yea, that’s me- all heart.

                    Just awake from a nap on another hot day here.
                    Had a remarkable dream.

                    I was at uni quartered in a big generous room, when I had to clear out all the stuff- end of term. I had left things till late, always a factor in my dreams and it all went cattywampus.

                    No sooner had I found dozens of other things that had to be emptied, some involving heavy cumbersome things, I’d have to take hours and days sorting when I was virtually out of time. Included ancient and revered objects while things like dumpsters turned up and how you remove a dumpster full of heavy stuff from a room?

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Jennifer Wilson January 1, 2016 at 9:45 am #

                      PW I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that I’m doing psychoanalysis: I’m tempted to steal your dream for a session when I have none.

                      It really is a good one. Not too difficult to deconstruct?


                    • paul walter January 2, 2016 at 12:50 am #

                      Update: Dozed off again, this time my wallet credit card and soc sec cards were lost which also a familiar theme as was losing my job again at my old workplace, which was also a hospital ward somehow.
                      I had to walk through the east end of Adelaide up a hill to a park that was hosting a footy match.

                      Maybe the weather..


  3. Becadroit December 29, 2015 at 1:12 am #

    What nobody tells you before people die is that relationships continue. They evolve and are different, freighted with grief and yearning and most definitely defined by the presence of absence. Now, sometimes, after so many years, it feels like the absence of absence and I wish to feel – it – something – almost anything – more. Years ago, in the depths of a prolonged barely coping, I copied out from the course work texts one of my friends was studying. It’s stayed with me ever since.

    The blows of love play tricks on men
    And destroy them stage by stage.
    I asked: am I acceptable?
    The elders said, Make yourself empty.
    I know what you mean,
    I replied
    But consider my state
    And show me some compassion,
    Sadness is only the start
    Of the weight I carry

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson December 29, 2015 at 6:37 am #

      Becadroit, Yes, people speak so much of resolution, and closure, as if a relationship can be tied off like a severed umbilical cord after someone dies.
      The absence of absence – another part of the weight to be carried?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. helvityni December 29, 2015 at 9:05 am #

    Beautifully said, Jennifer, and Rainer Maria Rilke.

    What a gorgeous grandson you have, a real heart-breaker.


    • Jennifer Wilson December 29, 2015 at 9:34 am #

      Thanks, Helvi. There are two scallywag boys and a very new baby girl. It’s busy!
      I hope the holiday season is enjoyable for you and Gerard. All the best, Jennifer.


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