Time Outside of Time II
Bill Long 12/28/04
My Frozen Moment
In their poetry both Kunitz and Clifton give memorable frozen moments from their past, moments of great poignancy and continuing meaning. Kunitz recalls being slapped when he showed his mother a picture of his father, a suicide. Clifton remembers her mother burning her poems. Each of the poets mediates those experiences with a non-judgmental purity, a transparency that allows us to view directly their felt sense of shame and helplessness. By trying to look at my own frozen moments I see how Kunitz and Clifton handled theirs with more integrity than I did. They faced their pain with the courage of clear, unemotional description. In contrast, I didn't face my pain straight; I didn't face it with courage. Here is a story in the poem-form:
I still remember the cool September Friday night--1968. I was one of the only junior starters on the varsity football team. Playing defensive end. A sweep came my way. I ran after the runner. I was hit from behind. I still hear the crack deep inside my knee. When I went down I knew I was hurt. I didn't feel any pain, but I knew my injury was severe. I lumbered off the field, then exploded in anguish, and was attended to by the trainer.
My next memories were in the clinic that evening. While everyone else was at the dance, I was on the sterile, cold, stainless steel table with a doctor flexing my knee. I didn't even call my date and tell her I was injured. She invited me to the dance--the first time I had ever been invited by a girl to anything. Debbie was her name, a pom pon girl, sexy, smart, who sat across from me in Latin class...how sexy is THAT? She never spoke to me again. I never dated until just before I got married.
The injury ended my season and career. It also set me back in track, where I had set the sophomore shot put record the year before. It changed my self-perception, my physical activity, my athletic identity. I took up religion in its stead.
Yet, I denied that I was hurt. I never admitted how much my life cracked when my knee gave out. I couldn't face it straight up; couldn't see it for the loss that it was; couldn't admit to myself that my universe of choices was being narrowed by the act of another; couldn't admit that this forced limitation on my activity was such an intrusion into my psyche that I was completely upended.
I acted as if I was not hurt, even though my season and football career was over. I denied the power of this event in shaping my consciousness for decades. I didn't have the courage, the grace, the insight, the strength to say, "I am hurt; my life as I have conceived of it will have to change." Even today I don't think I know how to handle loss. I never learned from this first loss to weep over the limitations imposed by others and then to try to redefine life positively in the light of loss.
As a result, I have always considered loss to be not simply an undesirable and uninvited guest, but a sort of illegitimate presence, a surd that ought not to be there in my life. It is a sort of continuation of the denial I expressed and felt when I was 16 years old. I have never been able to experience loss with anything other than the sense that I was completely undone, that no redemption is possible in this or any other life, and that I am simply at the mercy of unstated forces and foes that completely control the external events and internal sources of interpretation of those events. It has led to a condition now of passivity, of weak acceptance, of lack of courage to face almost any challenge that comes before me. Inability to face my frozen moment with a sense that I, for all my sense of my independence, brilliance, and strength, was hurt, beaten and redefined by external influences has led me to depths of isolation and intolerance in the middle of my days. Where will the courage come from to look straight on at my life? It is still not in me, I confess.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long