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Call Me:

Growing up, one of the most frustrating things about feeling sad was my mother’s feel-better pitch. If there was just one thing in the world that could, at the very moment of one’s deepest despair, make it all feel worse, it was my mother’s feel-better pitch.

“Look at the people around you,” she would begin, proceeding to name people we knew, all of whom had experienced grief of the most insurmountable variety. And just as her story was at its darkest moment, she would bring it all back to my sadness. My little brand of sadness. My quiet non-sadness. She’d say, “So you see...” and I would be ashamed.

At the time she succeeded in humiliating me into happiness. But now I find this important; this loss of perspective, this faded bigger picture. For some time at least, maybe it is necessary to feel our sorrow profoundly, to greet it and know its science. It must stir something inside us, I think; something that is deeper than the awareness of our relative happiness.

When I was ten, on the evening of my uncle’s wedding, my mother loaned me three of her most precious buttons. They were gold plated and given to me ceremoniously from her jewellery box. In all my life I had never touched anything so valuable and seeing how seriously I appreciated the occasion, she extended to me another small kindness: she did not instruct me to be careful. She let me feel like a grown up, well versed in the wearing of gold plated buttons.

Swiftly (of course), I proceeded to lose one.

Before that moment I do not think I had ever felt real despair.

How could I tell her it was lost? What adult terms could I use to explain the non-adult matter of a button falling? God only knew the thousands of cracks a house secretly kept for a woman’s buttons to be lost in. Life as I knew it was over. I felt like a child. (A terrible thing to feel in a pure silk shirt just before a wedding.)

I often think of that moment. I remember the terror, and I remember that it passed. Sometimes buttons fall off, and sometimes that is the most tragic thing to befall a life. The world ends. It is what gives it its stories, its lessons, its art and conversation.

(Can you imagine what Love in The Time of Cholera would sound like if the author had fallen victim to my mother’s feel-better pitch?... “Love feels like an illness, Gabriel? Really? What about cholera? What about an actual medical emergency? What about the real damn thing? Do you have cholera, Gabriel? No? No actual illness? Well that’s pretty lucky for you. Sucks for the guys with the cholera.”)

Growing older, I have realized (amongst other things), that buttons falling stealthily off shirts isn’t such a non- adult matter. That the loss of small treasures is still painful. That sorrow is extraordinary. That there will still come moments, when, dressed in a pure silk shirt before a wedding (usually one’s own), one will feel just like a child. But people must continue to feel defeated and inspired by loss to give the world its magnificence. If there is an art to living with grace (and gratitude), surely it must come from facing the violence of grief completely. I cannot know this for certain, but I imagine it must.

Admittedly so, this is not for everybody. But for some of us, perhaps the sadness needs careful analysis. Perhaps perspective needs to be lost some times. Perhaps we need to feel the disgrace and discomfort of our trials to learn what is important in the end. And that is okay.