After being stymied by full flights, flight cancellations, and Brad’s Dad’s health crisis for the last 2-3 weeks, we finally made it down to Arizona last night to spend a few days with my parents. The urgency to be together was reaching critical mass for all of us. The above picture is one of the most difficult for Brad and I to see, and a horribly perfect representation of what we all feel.
On the flight, it was impossible to not imagine how different it would all be if Anna were alive and well. We’d be anxiously trying to keep her happy so as not to make other passengers rue their bad luck to be seated near us. We’d be holding, feeding and fussing with her rather than sitting silently reading our magazines or staring out the window. Her car seat would be in the luggage compartment, safely zipped up in the travel bag her grandparents bought so it wouldn’t get dirty and ripped when she came to visit. The pack-n-play would be there too, the stroller in whatever mysterious place they disappear to after you leave them on the jetway before boarding the plane, now carrying your baby in addition to all their paraphernalia - every inch the overwrought parent. What a delightful stress.
My parents would be reaching for Anna, all eyes on her and practically forgetting to say hello to us in the airport. The 30 minute ride back to the house would be full of squeals and exclamations on her outfit, her toes, her hair, how much she’s changed in 2 months, my mother sitting next to her in the back instead of co-piloting up front and no one would even think to argue the seating arrangement. The house would be alive with joy and youth and hope by way of Anna, excitement by way of showing off all the changes to their still-new home, predictability in card games before bed, and satisfaction in having it all - so much more than we’d ever hoped simply for Anna’s presence.
What a difference it makes if you change all those ‘would’s to ‘should’s. What a difference in blood pressure. The emotion of Would is sadness - profound and endless, every last bit of air squeezed from your lungs as they crumple into emptiness and tears, until you gasp as if nearly drowned to support the sobs that follow. The emotion of Should is anger - clenched fists, eyes closing firmly in unacceptance of the reality before you, breathing deeply and holding it, willing that no one speak to you lest they be the unfortunate recipient of life’s inequity.
Both are debilitating words in their own right, but their energy... ‘Should’ is unfair treatment. ‘Should’ is injustice. ‘Should’ is defiant. ‘Should’ is someone must pay. ‘Should’ is violent. ‘Should’ will send you to jail, or the hospital, or an institution. ‘Would’ just leaves you in a boneless heap. ‘Would’ is gentle. ‘Would’ practically caresses you while it paints a preferred reality. ‘Would’ could land you in the hospital or an institution too, you’d just get different drugs and a different therapy focus.
I haven’t yet determined what factors determine which one I use at any given time, but I am noticing the difference in what happens to me depending on which modal verb is chosen. Limiting myself to one or the other, or deciding one is fundamentally better (don’t most self-help gurus say ‘should’ is a 4-letter word?), is not something I’m willing to commit to just yet. Both serve their purpose, for now. And I’m not done being angry.