Over the weekend, I watched a beautiful movie called, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, who loses his father in 9-11, and embarks on an emotional journey to find the matching lock to a mysterious key. Of course, the lock and key are symbolic of this boy’s search for meaning in a world where his father died an unjust death on what the boy calls, “The Worst Day.”
Having Asperger’s, the young hero is unbelievably organized and meticulous about his efforts to find what he is looking for. But what really moved me about his performance was the way in which he made himself believe that finding this lock would somehow extend his precious time with his Dad. Of his two parents, his Dad was the one who would engage him in intellectually stimulating conversation and play, making him feel connected, where he otherwise felt odd and alone.
Unfortunately, I know all too well the pain of losing a parent who you can really relate to. My own father was taken by cancer 9 years ago, and to this day I continue to look for ways to connect with him. Although not unburdened by doubt, I do believe that our loved one’s souls stay with us after their bodies disintegrate. But I also personally understand the motivation that would cause someone to search in the most unlikely of places for anything that could bring a loved one back, if only for an instant.
Sometimes, the loss feels so big and so wide that nothing could ever fill it up. But other times, I believe that it is this space from which creativity abounds. I often associate this belief with the works of Dave Matthews, because he writes so poignantly about embracing the moment, a skill that he seemed to develop out of necessity. Between the losses of his father, sister, and later LeRoi, Dave certainly knows about living at the corner of Grey Street and the end of the world.
Could it be that Dave started to play the guitar at age 9, in part due to his father’s worsening illness? Perhaps as a way to channel the many intense emotions that must have been arising for him at that time? We can’t be sure, but we do know that many of Dave’s lyrics have been influenced by his relationship with grief, and the inevitability of death. The one verse that is really standing out for me today, (possibly as a result of some intense imagery from the film), comes from the captivating, “You Never Know,” where he says, “Spinning on the wind. A leaf fell from a limb. But every day should be a good day to die. So play.” Such a poignant phrase, highlighting the fact that every leaf eventually falls, dizzy from all this spinning. But what if those fallen leaves continue to circle around us like particles of dust, visible only when we shine a direct light on them?
Right before I saw “Extremely Loud,” I went to the Ladies‘ Room where inside the stall I found these words staring back at me, “This is your father.” Turns out not where, but who you’re with that really matters.
Hayley Bauman, Psy.D.