Raging

Something terrible happened to my family this week.

What it is isn’t important, and I’m not being self-effacing when I say that. Individual calamities mean little but to the people who suffer them. Tragedies occur every day: Little children are struck by cars and killed; young people are diagnosed with hideous diseases; old people die after slowly losing their minds. We assume, generally, that this is the natural order of the world. It is only when it is happening to us that we object.

There are those who learn to make peace with their suffering. They accept and accommodate and make alternate plans. This always reminds me of the maternity nurse who attended me when I was 21 and giving birth to a nine-and-a-half pound baby boy. "Just give in to the pain," she told me. "Work with it. Let it help you." Luckily, my husband at the time — a large man — stepped between us before I could kill her.

And later, when that child was diagnosed with autism (the event which preceded, in many ways, the crisis that took place just three days ago), I read Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People. A rabbi, Kushner wrote this spiritual self-help manual after the death of his own son, Aaron, from progeria. He deconstructed the Book of Job, claiming it proved that God is both benevolent and fallible. To suffer, Kushner claimed, is simply to be fully human. The secret, he said — this man who certainly knows anguish — is to embrace one’s lot and look to God not for help but for strength.

I tried to find solace in his words. But I couldn’t. Because no matter what the circumstances, I fight. Back in the early 90’s, I abandoned Kushner and read the works of a man whose outlook on the world rather frighteningly matched my own. A chronic philanderer and suicidal alcoholic, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas better captured my philosophy, then and now.

So late yesterday afternoon, in the spirit of Thomas, I poured a glass of Elderton Shiraz 2003 well before the official cocktail hour. I didn’t like this wine, frankly. It’s pricey (a $40, 14% alcohol vintage that someone had given me as a gift) and I’ve no doubt it’s good by objective standards, but it was far too jammy and bold for me. Dark fruit and red licorice flavors marched across my palate like a high school band, raucous and insistent but with no refining grace. I like my wine more subtle — as you know — yet, in the tradition of DT, I drank steadily simply because the bottle was there.

Then I read, as I have so many times:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And as they always have, these words gave me comfort. I’m a Jewish woman who doesn’t know from acceptance. But rage, I get.