Like a first date, the first word sets up one of two outcomes: success or failure. I always choose my first word carefully. It should have a positive connotation or, at the very least, hold a depth of meaning. It’s incredible how many four-letter words fall into this category, and I cycle through L-O-V-E, K-I-N-D, F-R-E-E, before the five-letter words come to me. It’s as if I want to affirm that the creators of this puzzle have good intentions, that millions of people will not waste their letters on superficiality, that we, in this time of crisis, can still brush the profound. Perhaps it’s the poet in me, or maybe I’m like all addicts, seeking a touch of control, a tiny taste of success in an age of anxiety.
I’ve grown accustomed to time bending and blurring, but today my rapid test confirms the virus I’ve feared for two years. I will remember today. I sit up in bed, my fevering child folded in the blankets beside me, and make room for the right five-letter words to enter. H-E-A-L-T-H tries to push its way in but is too long. P-E-A-C-E comes but seems impossible even before I read tomorrow’s headlines announcing that a maternity ward has been bombed in Mariupol. T-R-U-S-T whispers in my mind. I welcome the word without knowing where it comes from or why and confirm five letters by counting on my fingers.
Two ochre letters glare at me. I see “us” against them as my left brain sweeps into defense mode and scoffs at my attempt to find meaning in this conundrum. As a creative thinker, I am quick to follow my intuition, but plummet into doubt when it backfires. It’s just a game, I remind myself. Don’t go down that rabbit hole as usual. Yes, that could be it:
Disappointing to have no shining green still, but I remind myself that the usual for me is to remain positive, even in the face of adversity. It’s an almost annoying habit I inherited from my mother. Despite her academic mind and conservative voting preferences, she had a spiritual streak, a non-denominational belief in the good of all things and our power to create our realities. Positive thinking can be a way of life. It was her way of life, and I followed even with my smallest footsteps.
I remember a book by her bedside called Mind Over Matter. Radical for the eighties, it made my teenage sister roll her eyes and my father jeer, both belittling her for her New Age penchant. But I was mesmerized by the notion that my mind could affect my world. With time, I see that we were a nuclear family composed of two camps. Like father, like eldest daughter. Like mother, like me. Despite my attempts at individuality, in the backbone of my existence I knew my place of belonging and rested behind my mother. It’s one of the irreconcilable losses of no longer having her. The secondary loss following her death created a family constellation of three, and with it, a hole in a web that will never mend.
If my mother were watching me now, she’d offer words of encouragement with my every attempt. She would cheer me on, clap her hands and hoot, BRAVO! SUPER!
I’m closer, but in so many ways, I’m drifting. Some things can’t be categorized, alphabetized or arranged in a visual form. It’s true what they say—when someone you love dies, you bury your old life beside them. The past eight years, I’ve had to say goodbye to who I was and build a new world in which to exist. I’ve become a clearer version of myself, built on risk and intentions, courage and heartbreak. And I miss my mother. Every day.
I still see the world through positive intention, but I also see life through the lens of grief. I wonder about our global immersion through the pandemic and if loss has the power to teach us how to live. Can we take from our inventory of horror the desire to make the most of our finite lives and sit with the preciousness of our mortality? This is the work of grief. And the unfair, bullshit, harrowing pain will also be there. There’s no escaping the darkness even as we step into new light. Loss is…
Gross little word. Close to booger and bugger. The three bright greens give me a burst of encouragement, but there are few white letters on my mini keyboard, and my feeble attempt at H-O-D-U-S reads “not in word list.” I’m getting desperate and almost convinced that Americans don’t need the u in J-O-Y-O-U-S. I question why I persevere. I’m not one to post my score on FB or compete. I can’t even interpret the statistics that count and collect my “streaks.” I could give up now. The world has more significant problems, and I have a fever on the rise.
As if sensing my discomfort, my child barks like a seal and sits up. I press my flat palm against his burning brow and reassure him, “I’m just doing a silly word puzzle. Go back to sleep.”
“You love words, Mommy,” he reminds me. “Just focus,” he mumbles as he snuggles in closer.
His small hand radiates against my heart.
*Inspired by the true experience of decoding The New York Times WORDLE, March 13, 2022.