What Happens to a Dream Deferred?

Unnecessary Preamble

The “Part II – or – What Does the US’s Largest Superfund Site Have To Do with Maine?” should have been posted long before last month’s deadline for comments to the Department of Environmental Protection about Maine’s new mining laws which are being relaxed to make open pit acid leach mining – like that we Montanans are familiar with at the Berkeley Pit in Butte – even easier. Essentially, the new rules allow for water clean-up from Maine mines to last forever. Viewed in another way, the laws could allow Irving Oil of Canada, the biggest private landholder in Maine, to poison our water forever in order to extract gold, silver, or whatever else it finds profitable in Bald Mountain, a densely forested part of Maine in the heart of our country’s largest carbon sink. Home to moose, deer, songbirds, and those rascally protectors of the wilderness – black flies, Bald Mountain and everything downstream of it will suffer in order for Irving to turn a profit. Forever.

There is a German word for this, raubwirtschaft, that translates as ‘plunder economy.’ It’s a fitting description of our bought-congress/corporate-controlled economy we forgivingly call capitalist. Even Pope Francis has some words of wisdom about this. In his Evangelii Gaudium, this rather popular new leader of the Catholic Church wrote,

The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

But honestly, all of this writing so far is mere preamble, some attempt to bring congruity to an otherwise scrambled blog with no unifying theme. The preamble – the apology for not getting back on topic about open pit acid leach mining for precious metals and the water problem it inevitably creates (as Brad Tyer so clearly articulates in his book about my home by the same name Opportunity Montana) – is to say I can’t write about that today. And I couldn’t write about it a month ago.

I let things get in the way.

I got sidetracked with more work on fossil fuel divestment campaigns in Maine; loved ones visiting for the holidays; work on this old house; continuous feeding of the wood boiler, an act I still find rather life-affirming and about which I’d like to write, soon…

But that which most distracted me from writing was our pregnancy. I watched teary-eyed and interminably the Coca Cola Life Terrific commercial from Argentina while the baby building made me very sleepy and rather cranky. I reordered my already unorganized life. I looked forward, then made plans, then the plans became dreams. Those dreams were really hope or faith or some kind of human expectation of loveliness to come that renders other activities – like writing a  blog about open pit acid leach mining – kind of inconsequential somehow despite the arguments I can make in my head for why it might be even more important to address mining waste when another human being is about to be added to the planet.

And so… the point of writing… ever the attempt to write out what’s happening in my mind and seemingly forever lost in the intellect as I unintentionally circumnavigate the heart…

…we lost our baby.

I had a miscarriage at about ten and a half weeks along. This is when the baby is about the size of a kumquat, morning sickness is at its apex, and expectation is continually on the rise. As the maternal pain passes about which I’m not so able to write, what’s left behind days later is this: a lingering sense of the competing sensibilities such a loss engenders and the recognition of how my own sadness brings me closer to others’ sufferings and to my own humanness in general.

What do I mean by competing sensibilities?

Natural selection had its way with us as it let go of a pregnancy not meant for this world. Meanwhile,  my instinct was to double over and protect the child in my womb. For days my body mimicked the fetal form of our little developing child. I pulled my knees upward toward my forehead, only to relax this position while this ‘who-are-you?-I-know-you’ washed away in holy clots of blood profanely drained in circles down the toilet.

From moment to moment, I ached to reach out to others only to find myself retreating within as soon as I did. I wanted to be in the presence of my community of caring people who simply ask “how are you?” like they do everyday. But that question made me weep and pull my hat lower over my eyes as I tried to hide and turn inside. Being in their presence made me want to shield them from witnessing my experience so somehow I, myself, might not acknowledge it.

My husband asked what he could do for me, and I would say,”Nothing,” until he turned away… when suddenly I wanted everything directly from him, everything that no one could do for me: make this better, stop this from happening, make it never possible to begin with. As suddenly as he was the unintended target of all of my disappointment, grief, and loss, he was just as much my possibility, my redemption, my love, and my future. My pain magnified this confounding love I have for him in all of its difficulty and joy.

My sixteen-year-old brought Oreos; a neighbor brought corn chowder. One part of me wanted nothing but infusions of uterine-toning raspberry leaf while the other could have drown in vats of corn-syrupy hydrogenated oils dipped in vodka. Moralistic oaths to make me somehow healthier or more worthy or better disciplined came in equal share with giving over to an unordered universe where expectation flies in the face of some hazy direction we don’t choose.

Wavering between belief that we choose how our life will unfold and recognition that life bends around surprise gifts as equally as it does surprise loss, I keep wondering, Am I really in control? Did I make the choices that led me here, today? Or is my life as dependent upon chance as the seed of a milkweed drifting? Am I fooling myself to believe I chose this path? Did my body choose the right course for this child of unorganized cells or damaged DNA? Did the Uranium-zapped iodine that zipped through my body like a smart bomb destroying thyroid cancer six years ago sit too long in my bladder too close to my ovaries? And how is it, then, that this other perfect, willful two-and-half-year-old boy came so easily and miraculously to us? And how that healthy, enthusiastic, gentle ten-year-old brother? And first, of course, the surprise of a lifetime in his arrogant and curious and rebellious and sensitive teen-age brother? Did Ari come to us because the universe needed him on the planet? Was River my true companion when seemingly all else failed for me in my twenties?

And yet, through all of it, there is that wondrous redemptive feeling that follows loss, that feeling of renewal that comes when you hear the first song of a robin or see the crocus push through ravaged grey-brown earth after a long, harsh winter.

Profound pain brings connection to others’ sufferings. I know the pain that other women suffering miscarriage feel or have felt. I ache for the depth of loss my dear friend felt when her first child died in the last month of her pregnancy. Though I know not the scale of pain, I have felt the whispers of grief of countless parents who’ve lost their children in the first year or the eighteenth or the thirtieth in such an unnatural sequence of events. My own physical pain helps me to better relate to those with ongoing pain; my own sadness is a well from which empathy springs; it brings me softness. And it really is an expression of love. I love that child now departed. I love the dreams folded into that little body.

To share with one another the joys of love, marriage, achievement, and creation is necessary in a world that often seems overwhelmingly harsh. But in this moment, I’m convinced that acknowledgement of shared pain brings us closer to one another. It allows us to empathize. It forces us to acknowledge our fallibility. And it also brings back the human sense of wonder where things have actually succeeded and flourished – like my three previous pregnancies and those healthy, willful, sometimes arrogant, sometimes floundering, unanticipated joy-machines. When I disclosed my miscarriage over the phone to a woman I’ve had countless conversations with about local food, sustainable agriculture, our buying club, how to initiate  more community engagement, etc.,  I heard her voice break and she cried with me. I don’t know whether she’s had the same experience or not. What I do know is that singular moment brought me closer to her than three years of intellectual conversation.

And this oddest of pains in my heart – literal pain – lingers over my breast. While I likely pulled a muscle carrying wood to the boiler and slipping on ice, I like to think that something else happened there this week. Has my heart, like the Grinch’s, grown a little bigger in its new sadness?

Langston Hughes came to mind this morning.

A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I write this blog today and share these perhaps too too personal feelings so that the dream that came and inhabited my body for two and half months doesn’t dry up or fester or become rotten, but perhaps transmogrifies into something I can’t quite predict. Maybe that has already happened. Maybe something else entirely is in store.

  1. Tina Bernier said:

    My tears are falling for you, and for your eloquence when faced with such loss. There is so much more in store for you in this life, some joyous, some tragic, some mundane. You face it, rage at it, embrace it, swallow it whole and that my friend is what a life truly lived is.

  2. wilcj said:

    hugs my dear friend. a big, crying, hug.

  3. Deidre said:

    Holly, this is so well written! You are such a talented woman and so Full of Heart. Sorry for you tremendous loss. Deidre

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