I’ve had this feeling my whole life but increasingly lately: Claustrophobia.
I know what lies behind the door of Room 101. Being trapped in a tight place is my worst fear. As a kid, a friend locked me in a refrigerator as a prank. He had no intention of leaving me in there, and I knew that. Nevertheless, I freaked out. While in college I went spelunking with friends in the mountains above U.C. Santa Cruz. I only reluctantly followed them into the barren dark and barely contained my growing panic as we squeezed ourselves into places I imagined any number of ways to be inextricable. As part of my job as an electrician I must often crawl into attics and under floors. Sometimes I have to close my eyes, imagine myself somewhere else, take a deep breath. I don’t know why I watched the movie Buried. It was a nightmare. I don’t want to be buried, even when I’m dead.
My best dreams are flying dreams. I still think it is big mistake that human beings were not made to fly. I know we can, with machines. But I mean really fly. I am haunted by the line from T.S.Eliot’s poem, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock:
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
All that space above, and here I am stuck to the floor of the earth, crawling around like a bottom feeder. Flying feels so right and natural in my dreams…
I’ve been experiencing a growing anxiety, a rising sense of panic. I feel trapped on this earth, imprisoned in this flesh. Rachel is unreachable, and that evokes a feeling of helpless, inescapable confinement. I rise in the middle of the night, get out of bed, and walk around to shake off the chains. I look at the stars. But even all that space seems only an elaborate cage. Make it as large as you can, I still feel imprisoned.
Jill’s sister Lindsay and her family came up to visit us to ease the difficulty of the 4-year anniversary of Rachel’s death. We did something we had been wanting to do for years. Lindsay and Rachel shared a love of large cats. We took Lindsay to the Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Sanctuary, which houses an amazing collection of large, exotic cats. They are kept for their own good. For one reason or another, they could not survive in the wild. But that truth cannot be impressed upon them. When they are not sleeping, they restlessly pace the confines of their cage. It reminded me of the poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, called, The Panther:
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
Has grown so weary that it cannot hold
Anything else. It seem to him there are
A thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world…
Rationally, I know that physical limitations define the terms of our freedom. We have five senses with which to perceive. But this feeling nips constantly at the back of my mind: what do they exclude? Perhaps they permit me only to perceive the prison, but not the real world beyond this captivity for which my heart yearns...
That night I had a dream: I was told that I would live to be 100 years old. The longevity that to most people may have been welcome news, seemed to me a cruel, intolerable sentence. 50 more years without Rachel. Another lifetime. In a reverse Hezekiah (2 Kings 20) I turned to the wall and wept inconsolably. I cried in anguish, “God, it’s too much… I cannot do it…” .
Sometimes you feel like you live too long.
Days drip slowly on the page.
You catch yourself
Pacing the cage.
Bruce Cockburn, “Pacing the Cage”
"Deep down I can't manage to become attached to this monkey-cage frenzy people so dramatically call life."
Rene Daumal, "Mount Analogue"
Life, just life is never
miracle enough no matter
how we try to church ourselves
Samuel Hazo, "For Anna Catherine On Thanksgiving"
This is not a death wish, but the acknowledgement of a restless, holy longing I think we all feel sometimes. I will wait. There is so much more to the story...