Friday, May 27, 2011

the next thing

when my mom called me this morning, she said she was worried about a man who lived a few doors down. there were multiple emergency vehicles in front of the house, and they didn't show signs of leaving. when i asked her how she knew it was the man who was unwell and not his wife, mom said she had seen the woman go out to pick up the newspaper from the front porch.

it was not two hours later that mom called back to say that the man had passed away.

it's what we do when unbearable, unspeakable things happen: we pick up the paper from the front porch. we worry about overdue library books. we get new cell phones (yup, we did that the very next day, too). we wash dishes, mow the lawn, answer emails, or make dinner when the world has suddenly been upended. and the next day, we do the next thing.

i'm not sure if it's a function of habit--we just always pick up the paper from the front porch without even thinking--or a semiconscious seeking after normalcy--at least i know how to do this thing. or are we actually unable to stop? i don't know my parents' neighbor well enough to know what drove her to pick up the paper from the front porch when the unthinkable was happening or maybe had already happened.

but i know that, on some level, it's what we all do. we do the next thing. we go to work, we get an oil change, we do the grocery shopping. even though it's still unbearable, unspeakable, we do the next thing. and the next thing we know, we're doing another next thing: we get a new job, move to a new house, get a pet. but the world is still upside down. it's not fixed, we're not saved by doing the next thing. still, on some level, we can't not. or perhaps i should speak for myself here: at least i can't not. i do the next thing. i get new curtains, get a haircut, have a baby. i try a new restaurant, clean out my closet, rearrange the furniture, find a new hobby. things aren't put right by doing the next thing, never. but it is still unthinkable, unbearable even if i don't do the next thing. so i do.

i want to tell my parents' neighbor not to listen to the people who will tell her to stop doing the next thing, to let the newspapers pile up on the front porch, forcryingoutloud, or to let someone else pick them up for her. to let the bathroom go unpainted, the flower beds go unweeded, the refrigerator go uncleaned, the laundry be forgotten. and maybe, just maybe, here's another place i need to speak for myself alone. because doing the next thing, even from my upside down place, is the only way i know to be. but maybe that's just me. is it, in fact, possible to stop doing the next thing?

the more i think about it, the more i realize how much i'm projecting. i don't know why the neighbor picked up the paper from her front porch on the morning her husband died. maybe her husband was still well when she picked up the paper, and he wanted to read it. or maybe it wasn't the paper she picked up at all, but instead a piece of medical equipment an emt dropped on the way in the door. maybe she wasn't doing the next thing, after all. i don't know.

what i do know--at least i'm pretty sure i know--is that nothing in her world is right side up tonight. and if she wants to read the paper, i hope she won't let anyone stop her.

1 comment:

Patricia Berman said...

It was the paper... he had already passed on... it was the "next thing". For what it is worth, I too, think there is comfort in doing "the next thing".