Closing the Exit Door by Emily Rapp
When I first learned that my son, Ronan, would die before he turned four years old of a rare, progressive neurological disease called Tay-Sachs, I felt too sad to live. I thought I cannot stay awake.
I thought I want to die.
All of the self-destructive coping mechanisms I had relied on in the past – binge drinking, starving, extreme exercise, overworking, impulse shopping – were no longer any use to me. There was no place to go where I did not feel pain. There was no method of transformation available to me, which is another way of saying that there was no exit door. For several months grief became my life, and for the rest of my life grief will be a major player in it.
How do people survive a world when every step forward feels like dropping through a trap door? Some people don’t.
In 1944 my grandfather, a man from whom I inherited my red hair and many other traits (I’m told), shot himself with a rifle in a hot barn. Nobody knows the full story; nobody knows why. Was it depression, addiction, or a combination of these? Did the same fate await me, the recipient of at least some of his genetics? He was a unique man in a unique position in a unique period of time: an Irish Catholic father of two who, if he had asked for help for his depression or addiction or other problem, would have had limited resources. Depending on what he needed he may have been judged harshly by his conservative rural community, maybe even been outcast. The fact that my grandfather took his life makes me much more likely (if you believe in statistics) to do the same. I understood this in the first thunderous days after Ronan’s diagnosis, and I was afraid.
I understood the deepest shadow side of myself.
But when I looked at my fear straight on, a strategy I learned, in part, from yoga, I found something I hadn’t expected – not an exit, but an entrance.
When I looked into the fire of my grief and despair, and then sat down in it, then got familiar with it (tasting, touching, breathing, smelling, eating it) I found a new coping mechanism – my vocation as a writer – to be the only one that offered any assistance, any help at all. I couldn’t have been more surprised. Up to that point, most of my life as a writer consisted of procrastination, spurts of inspiration, cross country trips to residencies where I spent the bulk of my time “getting settled in my new environment,” racing to meet deadlines, and hours and hours logged at coffee shops in Austin, Texas and Provincetown, Massachusetts, and then West L.A., staring at a painfully white screen and longing to write while simultaneously wishing I’d already written whatever it is I was attempting to write. Not anymore. Writing became (and perhaps it always was) a compulsion, a necessary ritual fueled by a desire as strong as wanting that next drink, that next award, that next expensive sweater, that next (and even lower) number on the bathroom scale, only instead of tearing my world down to its most destructive components, it made my world huge, massive, much bigger than I ever thought it could be. I wrote a book about my son to keep me in the world, and I’m still doing it. Writing closed that particular exit door. It kept me in the room of my life.
I try to imagine myself, years from now, without my son, and I try to envision what I want that life to look like: chaotic, filled with dogs and children and books and good food and cheap wine and brilliant friends and travel and hours of contemplative thinking time. Space. Room. Joy. Light. A life of the mind; a state of the heart.
Some may believe this is heartless or cruel, to fast-forward to my life without Ronan, to try and manifest a vision of this happiness, but without this future-directed act of manifestation, an activity I’ve learned much about from Jen’s yoga classes and from her presence in my life, I couldn’t imagine and I couldn’t write, and if I couldn’t write I couldn’t live. Without the hint of this promise, we look to our lives and see only ways out, doors to the outside, an overabundance of possible exits.
Yoga teaches us that we are both limited and enhanced by our desires, and the energy behind them can serve you – through breath, meditation, mindfulness. Sitting in a room with other people, moving and making shapes with the body is a kind of magic, but it’s also a kind of meditation, manifestation, a kind of necessary work that can last throughout your life and also help you live it.
I hope you will all consider buying a t-shirt or spreading the word about them in an effort to raise money for research and to help with any costs Ronan many need.
Manifesting Your Life,
One Laugh at a Time,