Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ain't no sunshine.

At 5 a.m., the alarm rumbled to life across the room and we started the swift process of launching my beloved Brooklynite back toward her home. By 5:45, her taxi had zipped away from my building; I stood in my pajama bottoms and windbreaker, waving and waving, then turned around and headed back in from the new morning's half-light.

When I was in graduate school, I interned for a professor who had studied the Baining of Papua New Guinea. She taught me (and the class of high school students I was helping her teach) that one of the Baining people's crucial emotional states is called awumbuk: the feeling of bereftness left when a loved one departs. It is, this professor explained, a "social hangover"; the Baining believe that it lasts three days. The more closely bound a visitor is to the person s/he has visited, the more profound the feeling of having been drained of one's vitality (the crucial experience of awumbuk) will be.

Awumbuk has been a useful concept for me over the years, as I've learned to give myself space for emotional experience and also to acknowledge that my life is interwoven with others' lives. I knew that today would be a wash in most ways, after three full days of joy with a friend I hadn't seen for a year. The fact that the weather was almost unremittingly grim all day helped to fulfill my prediction--and to make it a good thing that I hadn't tried to override it, to pretend as though it's not a very big deal indeed when a loved one goes back home. Rather than force myself to anything today, I mostly drifted through the day, doing necessary things when they needed to be done, deflating the big bed when it felt as though it were time to put the flat to rights, making soup when I'd come back from a walk through the rain to the art store, taking a nap with my hot water bottle on my stomach. And, by 10 p.m., feeling a version of jet lag: four hours ahead of my regular schedule, ready for sleep.

There is still so much to process and to tell about St. Ives, and now about this latest series of adventures, that I almost despair. But right now, I am actually too tired even to despair; I am starting to nod off at the computer, to have strange nightvision waking dreams, and sorting can wait until tomorrow.


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