In most of the books I've read, "post-Josh", regardless of genre, storyline or author, something hits me. The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink was no exception. In it, I have a new way of looking at impulsiveness and sadness.
Written in the first person, the protagonist, Michael Berg looks back to a life changing event, and cannot determine why he acted the way he did.
I don't know why I did it. Often enough in my life I have done things I had not decided to do. Something - whatever that may be - goes into action; "it" goes to the woman I don't want to see anymore, "it" makes the remark to the boss that costs me my head, "it" keeps on smoking although I have decided to quit, and then quits smoking just when I've accepted the fact that I'm a smoker and always will be. I don't mean to say that thinking and reaching decisions have no influence on behavior. But behavior does not merely enact whatever has already been thought through and decided. It has its own sources, and is my behavior, quite independently, just as my thoughts are my thoughts, and my decisions my decisions (my emphasis).
Those of us with children have asked the question, "why did you do it?" many times and have heard the somewhat annoying answer, "I don't know". The quote above describes this common phenomenon and puts forth the idea that behavior is not always linked to thought or decisions and in fact, can be it's own entity and completely independent. A scary thought. Penned in the margin of my book is "definition of impulsiveness?" for isn't that what it means? That sometimes we do or say something without thinking or making a rational, conscious decision and afterwards, think, "why did I just do (or say) that?" But by then, it's too late. The deed is done.
Is this what happened to Josh that dark night? An impulsive act that was not grounded in thought and conscious decision? Behavior that ran amuck and did "it's" own thing, resulting in the most horrific consequence - his death? Now it is my turn to say, "I don't know."
In another chapter, Michael looks back to a happy time of his life, but because of events that happened since, rather then feeling happy in his memories, he only feels profound sadness.
Why? Why does what was beautiful suddenly shatter in hindsight because it concealed dark truths? Why does the memory of years of happy marriage turn to gall when our partner is revealed to have had a lover all those years? Because such a situation makes it impossible to be happy? But we were happy! Sometimes the memory of happiness cannot stay true because it ended unhappily.....Is this what sadness is all about? Is it what comes over us when beautiful memories shatter in hindsight because the remembered happiness fed not just on actual circumstances but on a promise that was not kept?
I wrote in the book margin: "promise of an intact family" for this was taken away in the never-to-be-forgotten moment when I found Josh's body.
My journal entry: "My memories have been re-ignited with the photo scanning project. All significant days in Josh's short life have been recorded and seeing them again, re-living the events has only heightened the pain. But I don't regret the project. I want to remember. These memories now serve to keep him alive. It doesn't make me "happy" and so I agree with this quote. Some well-meaning people have said things like, "just think of the good times" or "hold onto the good memories" as a way to get past the pain and grief, but it doesn't work, at least for me. There might be a time, in the far distant future, when my memories of Josh will bring joy. Right now, that is not the case. They only serve to remind me of the unkept promise.