The First Time
The first time going to Yankee Stadium, the first time at the movies, the first time I had a birthday, the first time I went to Europe, the first time sitting at the beach in Sag Harbor, the first time at the Met, the first time at Jake’s Little League, the first time I see Cedar play lacrosse and the first time Nevona gets a really great job in the music biz in Brooklyn. The first time a child steps into the world and shines in a way you might not have expected.
The first time the schedule for the NY Film Festival appears in the Times. The first time working at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving, the first time the dog goes to a new day care, the first dinner party. The first time dancing in a crowd of friends and colleagues. The first time giving a lecture. The first time people are applauding.
The first time you are filing your taxes. The first time you sign a lease for an apartment. The first time you go to a wedding and someone you knew as a baby gets married.
These are the particular first times that reveal with an often shattering force that they are and they are not happening for the first time. These are the first returns to the routines of life after a death. These are the first times that you encounter alone the many deeply loved routines of a shared life. Everyone has their list and perhaps fortunately it can be extended almost indefinitely. In this way, trickily and magically, death continues to be suspended.
As you arrive at that ‘first time’ there is the jolt of recognition, the dawning realization that this first time is potent precisely because it is so ambiguously not the first time. These ‘first times’ unveil the hidden melancholic contract that is still in place. Each experience of ‘the first time’ suffuses you with a unique and particular pain. The emotion that floods you carries hope and dread because in each first time, death also arrives – for the first time, there, in that place, in that event.
The emotion in these moments offers the enigmatic instruction that indeed there is not yet death, or not here. Not in Yankee Stadium nor at the dinner party. The reality of death has been suspended in those times and spaces until you arrive for the first time alone. Abraham and Torok give this problem an extraordinary title. The fantasy of the Exquisite Corpse. The melancholy and omnipotent triumph in which time is wrestled to a standstill – in one’s imagination.
Nachtraglichkeit. That process that aids and impedes the task of mourning
The first time is a revelation. Mourning is for life, as Margaret Little rather famously said – perhaps to Winnicott.
Adrienne Harris, New York City. February 2015