Every time I start to write this post, I hold off on publishing it or I delete it completely. But today I ran into my former english professor (whom I chose not to name for professional reasons) who gave me strength I desperately needed during a difficult time, and decided it was time to finally publish the damn thing.
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I was taking a Women in Literature course during a time when too many people around me were dying, most of them from suicide and cancer.
There were two suicides, two attempted suicides, and two cancer deaths in a span of 4 months. Needless to say, it was a very difficult winter for my four college girlfriends and I, but together we all made it through. We had many sleepovers: the four of us in one bed, talking until we fell asleep, wondering who was going to be the next victim. We silently prayed it wasn’t someone we couldn’t live without. We carpooled to attend wakes and funerals. We hit our own rock bottoms at different times–some of us right away, others years later–but had each other to relate. At one point we all lived in California at the same time for three months, as though we were all trying to run away and realized distance had nothing to do with making peace of the past, so we moved back.
There are still good and bad days. Days when you dwell on the language and images of that time, those that you’ve witnessed and those that you’ve created to fill in the blanks.
These bad days often take me back to that class where we were required to watch The Hours (2002) based off the brilliant novel by Michael Cunningham (which I hadn’t read yet at that time). Had I known what the story was about, I probably would have excused myself from the assignment, but since I was already face first in death on screen, I couldn’t move from my seat. My professor came to the front of the class when it was over and asked us for feedback. I sat unnaturally silent in my seat.
This is as far as I will take the details of this part of the past for now.
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Life has since brightened tremendously, even while tragedy hovers in every missed phone call or urgent, vague text message from family and friends. Even while anxiety and stress randomly tingle in my limbs. At least sudden panic for absolutely no reason has ceased. The strangest side effect to all of this is that I have gotten into the habit of watching The Hours once a year. In Spring, if I feel ready. It has to be during that time of the year when everything starts to replenish and bloom again. Perhaps I do this as a reminder of those dark times and how beautiful and short life truly is. Perhaps it’s because I need a jolt back to the present when I start dwelling on the past. Perhaps it’s to test my strength when I feel weakness coming on. Whatever the case may be, it feels necessary still. Someday, I hope to overcome this annual habit, but for now it keeps me stable.
So, should you watch it? Read it?
Yes and Yes. If you’re feeling brave, give it a go. Watch it at night, maybe with a friend you trust to see you in a vulnerable state and vise versa. Just don’t expect to run errands or have company afterward. You will need the rest of the night to soak in your thoughts. As for the novel, it is (as I mentioned above) brilliant! I recommend every human being in the universe read it at least once. It is just as powerful, maybe even more than the film.
When I visited Tina at the Paperback Book Exchange in Neenah, we discussed that it was one of my favorite novels. Her response: “Ah, yes, such a tragic story. But that’s what we love about it, isn’t it?” Don’t think I didn’t go home and soak in those words!
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“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself …”
“Dear Leonard. To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. Leonard, always the years between us, always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.” – Virginia Woolf in The Hours
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Virginia Woolf: “A woman’s whole life in a single day. Just one day. And in that day her whole life.”
Clarissa Vaughn (Mrs. Dalloway): “I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself: So, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more. It never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment. Right then.”
“That is what we do. That is what people do. They stay alive for each other.”
Richard: Oh, Mrs. Dalloway … always giving parties to cover the silence.”
Laura Brown: “It would be wonderful to say you regretted it. It would be easy. But what does it mean? What does it mean to regret when you have no choice? It’s what you can bear. There it is. No one’s going to forgive me. It was death. I chose life.”