Living on the Edge

Some of my happiest times during the past few years have been when I have been standing on the edge of places.

On the edge of a canyon:

Black Canyon of the Gunnison -- north rim

On the edge of a lighthouse:


On the edge of a pier:

Ventura Pier

On the edge of the continent:

Atlantic Ocean

On the edge of a day:

Ocean Sunrise

I’m not sure why edges have such appeal for me. Perhaps it’s because when I am on an edge, I can see a long way, catching glimpses of possibilities far in advance of their appearance. Or perhaps it’s because edges create a boundary between two very different areas — land and sea; balcony and air, cliffs and gorges, night and day — and such differences mirror my own internal boundaries. Or perhaps it’s more symbolic, a precursor to the time when I will be standing on the edge of life, looking out onto . . . who knows what.

Some people “collect” lighthouses, going from one to another, taking pictures, maybe even getting stamps in a lighthouse passport. I considered making such a trek someday, but what I’d really like to do is visit edges of places.

Maybe that’s where I’ll finally find happiness: living on the edge.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Yesterday in my post, Looking at the World Through the Lens of a Camera, I mentioned a trip I took to the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The south rim is the better known part of the canyon, but the north rim seems wilder to me. Here are a few photos of the canyon.

While I stood taking the previous photo, this is what lay behind me:

Life’s Little Bonsai

The delightful Juliet Waldron, Crone Henge blogger and fellow Second Wind author, left a comment on my blog yesterday, saying we are all life’s little bonsai, and this image has stuck in my head because it seems so true. Life and fate do their best to form us into whatever torturous configurations please them, and we’re left to do the best we can with whatever shape we’re given.

It seems fitting then, that I planted a Japanese black pine tree yesterday as a symbol of continuing my life despite the traumas and dramas thrown at me the past few years. I doubt I will torture the poor thing into a standard bonsai shape, though I suppose unrestrained growth could make it weaker, and that would be just as torturous for the poor thing as purposeful mutilation. (I don’t know why I worry so much about torturing the tree. Nature does the same thing to wild trees, as you can see from this photo I took at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. And anyway, I just planted the seeds yesterday, so I am a long way from having to make a decision about caring for the pine.)

I’ve been checking the final edits for my grief book, which will be published in another two or three months, and I notice how often I acknowledge the pain of having lost my life mate/soul mate and then state my determination not to let life and fate destroy the possibility of any future happiness. Sometimes, now, for just a second, I can stand outside myself and wonder how the death of one man could have put me in such a state for so long. I mean, life does torture us with all sorts of traumas, it kills with impunity, and we all will face the same fate in the end. So why should this particular loss mean so much? Why should it hurt so much? Despite all these months of pain, I’m glad I grieved for him and didn’t just go on with my life as if nothing earthshaking and soulquaking had happened. His life—and death—shouldn’t pass lightly.

I wonder what he will think of the grief book. It’s so much of a love story, this story of ours, and we were both private people. (Some called us secretive, but we weren’t. We just kept ourselves to ourselves.) And soon the whole world (well, a hundred people anyway) will know the truth of our lives and will see how we dealt with being life’s little bonsai.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m being appallingly foolish for putting myself out there like that, and other times I figure it’s just another of the twists and turns that are shaping me.

Grief Update: A Yearning as Deep as the Black Canyon

I haven’t been writing much about grief lately. Partly I’ve been trying to keep an upbeat attitude so I can focus on promoting my new book, Light Bringer, which was published on the anniversary of my soul mate’s death, and partly I haven’t wanted to admit how much his being gone still hurts. It seems a bit pathetic since there are so many earthshaking and earthquaking events happening in the world today, and it has been more than a year since he died (a year and fifteen days to be exact). I am doing okay, but I still feel his absence from the earth, still miss him, still yearn for one more word or one more smile.

Fridays and Saturdays are particularly hard. He died at 1:40 am on a Friday night (which made the actually date a Saturday) and my body can’t decide which day is the right time to mourn, so my upsurge of grief spans both days. I say my body can’t decide, because there is an element of physicality to grief, especially when it comes to the death of someone who shared more than three decades of your life. You feel his absence in your cells, in your marrow, in your blood. I can sometimes feel (or imagine I feel) his vibes still surrounding the things he used, the things we shared. I find myself stupidly hugging a dish before I use it, remembering him eating off that plate.

Most of our stuff is packed away because of my temporary living arrangements. Yesterday, I felt a moment of panic when I realized that eventually I would unpack and begin using our household goods, and I would feel his energy permeating them. Usage will dissipate that energy, but for now, it’s still there. Perhaps when I need those items, the psychic remnants of him will bring me comfort, the way using a few of our things bring me comfort now, but it could just as easily set off a whole new strata of pain.

But I won’t — can’t — think of that. It still takes almost everything I have just to get through the days, to concentrate on this day. I can live today. What is one day without him when we had so many? I am most at peace when I forget that he is dead, when somewhere in the far reaches of my mind I feel that he is back in the house we shared, waiting for me. It’s not that I can’t live without him. I can. It’s that the world is such an alien place now that he is gone. I still remember how right the world felt when I met him. I had no expectations of having any more of him than that first relationship of customer (me) and storeowner (him), but back then, just knowing a person such as he existed made the world a more radiant place. When he died, he took the radiance with him.

It’s sort of odd, but I can’t identify that specific quality of radiance he brought to my life. He was sick for so very long, we gradually untwinned our lives, he to dying, me to aloneness. And yet, that connection, that depth, that radiance remained until the end. In his last weeks we even found a renewed closeness, a renewed commitment, but before that, we endured months, maybe years of unhappiness.

And, childishly, I am still unhappy. I want what I cannot have. I try to find in myself the radiance (the center? the heart? the home? — whatever it was that he gave me). I will need that to keep me going through the coming decades, and I fear I am not enough. At times, I think I have depths enough to plumb, other times those depths seem an illusion, an opaqueness that masks my shallows.

But what isn’t shallow is how much I miss him. That yearning is as deep as the Black Canyon.