Yesterday, I was responding to a comment on my 28 Days of Play: She Is Me post and I wrote:
A truth that comes with time: *those* mothers are us, and we are them. Obviously, there are suspicious superstars who really seem to do it all with effortless grace and also truly egregious types who genuinely neglect their children, but my strong feeling is that the vast majority of us fall between these two extremes. And in this muddled middle, I do think the best we can do is ask the right questions and make an effort each day to try.
After I published this comment, I thought of Dad. Dad, a philosopher and bioethicist, had this great saying - "the troubled middle" - which I think inspired my "muddled middle" above. And I sat there at my desk after I made this connection and I just felt myself wishing he were around so we could talk about what he meant by this. I know he would love to talk about what he meant by this. That was his thing, conversation, deep conversation.
It's also my thing.
And so I ended up Googling "the troubled middle Strachan Donnelley" and this in itself made me a bit sad. That I have to run a Google search to figure out what my own father meant by something, a phrase he tossed around even at the dinner table. Sad because he's not here. Sad because we didn't talk about these things enough when he was. Sad because he was a Luddite and would hate the very notion of his daughter Googling something about him.
My search yielded some results and I found myself reading an article of his called "Speculative Philosophy, the Troubled Middle, and Ethics of Animal Experimentation" and the title alone made me smile. Dad was wildly fond of the triple-barreled title. Mom, my sisters and I liked to mock him for this.
And I read. And his words were smart and thick and I'm not sure I understood any of it and this too was perfect because that was so him. He was a brilliant man, but he was also inscrutable in a way, to me at least. In the article, I found a paragraph that used the phrase and it went like this:
Then there are those in the troubled middle who find an inherent goodness in organic life and concrete values manifested in individual animals. But they also believe that the relatively superior goodness and value of human life, coupled with our vulnerable and "needy" status in the world, warrant the ethically judicious use of animals in scientific research. These middle ones recognize the legitimate and often conflicting needs and requirements of both human and animal welfare.
And the reality was, fittingly, that I was no better off. My understanding of Dad's "troubled middle" remained sketchy. But that's okay because in those ten minutes I was brought back to him, to his work, his ideas, often opaque to me, and this in itself was good, and sharply good, because I miss him and sometimes, more than five years out, I forget that I miss him.
That's not right. I never forget the missing part. It's always there, if unconsciously, underpinning and informing it all. There is this vast hole in the fabric of my good, rich life of thinking and mothering of which he'd so adamantly approve, a hole I thankfully don't always see or feel, but it's there. The missing him? The hole? They are mixed in with it all, all that I do, all that I love - the work and the wondering and the wandering.
His absence is now part of my presence.
A harsh, happy truth.
I'm not sure what the point is here. That's fine. Dad was all for rambling, for making no sense at all at least some of the time. I guess the point is that I'm realizing that he's not really gone. Not totally, anyway. He lingers, and brightly, in my thoughts, in my memories, in my questions, in my blue eyes that are also his.
The troubled middle.
I just realized something. I'm a middle child. So was he. So is my girl with whom I was pregnant when Dad died of stomach cancer (cancer of the middle of his body), my girl who bears his name in, yes, the middle of hers.
I will write about him more. And read his work. And talk to Mom and my sisters and his colleagues about him. Because these things are good for me and important to me. In the thicket of my busy life, I will make a true effort to feel the missing from time to time, that hole, the ineffable and undeniable joy and meaning his life and legacy continue to bring me.
Before he died, I asked Dad a question. He was sitting in our cat-shredded chair, watching golf, I think. Can I write about you after you're gone?
And even in the fog of his final pain, he found his humor.
As long as you don't trash me, he said, a slight smile alighting.
Is there anyone you're missing or forgetting to miss? Do you agree that there is something good about making an effort to feel the absence sometimes?