Her still, radiant green eyes tried to explain to me what she was saying. Her hand lightly pressed in mine, entangled, our fingertips having no end. I felt her steady pulse, breaking me more with every beat. My ears anticipated her every word. To my ears they were the entire world. It was an ongoing lesson that she’d been teaching me from before either one of us was born and that she continues to teach me now.
“Emptiness,” she said. The word frightened me then, “is what allows for love.”
I begged her to talk about anything but emptiness. Not now, there was no time for emptiness.
“It’s important,” she had a calm and peaceful look which I misunderstood. On the small white table next to her hospital bed was a book by The Dalai Lama.
“Ok, how is love…” I couldn’t finish the sentence then, and she knew I did not understand.
“Is it the color of my eyes that make my eyes mine? If I woke up tomorrow with brown eyes, would they still be my eyes? What makes them eyes? Are they only eyes because they allow me to see? If I woke up blind tomorrow would they still be eyes?” Yes, yes. She raised her right hand, and mine rose with it. She tightened her grip on my hand. “Without looking, where do our hands end? Can you feel my heartbeat or your own?”
“I don’t understand…what does this have to do with emptiness?” There was never anything empty about Clara, she was passionate; inspired madness.
“How did we meet?” She asked.
“Finnigan’s on St. Patrick’s Day.” It wasn’t the most romantic story, we’d sworn to change it for the kids.
“That’s not what I asked.”
“Devan. He saw you at the bar and turned to me, and swore that if I didn’t ask you your name that he would. That hadn’t gone over well with his fiancée.”
“How did you meet Devan?”
“In high school, he moved from San Francisco when his dad left.” Why were we talking about Devan?
“And his parents had met in Boston, in college,” she added, “and their parents, and their parents, and their parents…”
“Ok, so our meeting was very circumstantial to a whole lot of moving. That is simple enough, but not empty.” I really suffered then.
“That moving is only a piece of the process. It is part of a process of choices, good and bad; a process of desires; a process of responses; a process of impulses; a process of flesh and mortality, of living and dying.” There was her passion, and we were both quiet for a few minutes. I hoped she would change the subject. “Its individuals and its whole nations. How did we meet? It cannot be answered without giving the history of every one of those ‘circumstantial’ movements and processes. If I were to ask you now, ‘who am I?’ you would no doubt tell me that I am ‘Clara Browne. You might say I am fearless, beautiful, intelligent, creative, compassionate, eccentric…’ and so on; only good things, of course. But I don’t think that is what I am at all. Last week I finished a poem. I am that poem. Above our bed is a painting I made, I am that painting. Everyone leaves an imprint in life. When you go home and go into our bed, there will be an imprint of where my body laid next to yours. That emptiness would not exist without the bed, without me, without us, without love. Don’t cry.” We were both crying.
“Do the tears of losing a loved one exist without love, or do we sob for the loss experienced in just that one instant? Is our love more than right now? Is it also eight years ago at Finnigan’s? Is it six years ago at St. Chelsea’s? Is our love all the arguments we had when we first got married? Is it three years ago when I was diagnosed with this cancer? Is it my beauty, is it my creativity, is it my wit, my youth, my eyes, my heart; perhaps it was just the perfume I was wearing? Is it physical, emotional, spiritual? How did any of those things come to be? Were they isolated incidents or did they continue to impact us, to guide us to this moment right now? Our love is tears and sweat and goodbyes. It is a drive that gives rise to egos and unions; to divisions and bonds. To one soul, to both souls, to all souls. Our lives are empty. Are we bodies on the life support of organs? Don’t our organs rely on our brain? Doesn’t our brain rely on our soul? Does our soul rely on God? Upon what does God rely? Are we passionate? I used to get angry when the supermarket ran out of milk.” She paused, laughed. Her tears left lines down her cheek.
“I am all of that. And tomorrow, what will have changed? If you love my creativity, am I only creative when I am painting and writing? My creativity is empty. It is inspired by something internal, or by some madness that you called it; and it is attached to something external. It changes constantly and it is not always the same form or the same expression. Whatever inspires it is there due only to a process that I myself am mixed into; what I create is a process that remains active in the world after I am finished creating it. What will you think of when you go home and look at my painting? What will you feel? Do those thoughts and feelings express, belong, and originate from the painting, from yourself, or from my mind, my soul, my life, my love?”
When I look at the painting now, I see it full of emptiness, but emptiness is not the same as accident. There is love, madness, and courage in that painting; that is all empty too. All of it coming from an inspired and passionate life. Conditioned by her friends, her family, her upbringing, the ringing out of her soul (I’m not sure if she believed in a soul or just used the word to make me understand). All of that being a result of a complex and interconnected history that stems back to…to when? To how? Every reaction, every desire, every heartbeat, every birth and death, all of it. Brilliant and beautiful. It’s complete because it can never be complete. It’s finished the same way that I am finished, the same way a wave is finished. It is empty as our love.