Waving, not drowning

Today I took my broken heart to the edge of the sea and I reminded it that every breath that’s ever been heaved in this world is still here to be breathed anew. That everyone who ever stood on this earth and did the simple miraculous work of inhaling and exhaling is connected to every other person who ever has. That you are connected to me in this way, and I to another, that our breath reaches back through time to those we’ve loved and lost. There is a constancy there that soothes me, the way the ocean smooths out the rocks at Peggy’s Cove. The waves there are relentless, the ocean’s hand ashore to ease the furrowed brow of rock. The cure for anything, it’s said, is salt water: tears, sweat, or the sea. I tried all three today but remain uncured, for what can really cure grief? Time blunts it, maybe, though not for long. Grief is a rogue wave. At Peggy’s rogue waves are just a fact, like grief is a fact, like every breath that’s ever been taken in and let go is still in the world is a fact.

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Finally after eighteen years I’ve learned that what I know about this day can barely cover the head of a pin. I recognize this territory, sure, its rough outline, but it is a seaside in spring changed entirely by winter storms, its road ripped up, its sand carried by the wind and waves a hundred metres away and strewn upon the grass, a beach out of time and out of place. Rocks revealed and covered, revealed and covered. I know enough to know what recent losses for friends will mean. I know the way grief changes families, its thumbs hard on your clay. The way it makes a thicket grow over your path overnight so you can no longer go that way and must find a different way instead. It brings silence to the party it crashes, and regret, sometimes guilt, and recrimination. It is the worst kind of guest, rude and uncaring. A house guest that just won’t take the hint. It belches at the table, and leaves all the towels damp and wadded up in corners where they moulder, unnoticed till it’s too late. 

That I know, but knowing only makes it sadder, my own grief compounding theirs, or theirs compounding mine. I have arrived at a place of activism. Death is still so awkward and impolite. Losses are invisible, unless perhaps you’ve also lost. And then there is a choice. Pretend you can’t see, or develop x-ray vision. I’m choosing the latter. I’m trying for a kind of generosity in grief. I know this beach well, I can say. It changes every day, it seems, like the shoreline and the sea, as the poet says, but I know its basic geography, and where the break in the thicket is. I know your clay will firm again and those thumbs won’t press you so. The sand will return to the beach. Those rocks that have been revealed will always be there, but you’ll learn where they are and you won’t stub your toe on them as often.

And for myself, I’m left with what I’m always left with. The pursuit of more, the understanding that none of it is assured. I don’t arrange my life around what I think one of my dear departed would want. I won’t use that as a crutch to do or not do what’s in front of me. I will, however, take to heart the annual lesson to live while I am alive. My brother would have turned fifty last week. When we were twenty and twenty-two I gave him a birthday card that said, on the front: No matter how old you get… and then inside, the punch line: You’ll always be older than me. I can’t stop thinking about that card now. I’m forty-seven this year, and feeling my age in a way I never have. Chris remains thirty-two, with so much undone. I went out to hear some music last week, and one of the singers, Lynn Miles, sang this song. It made me think of Chris, who wanted more of everything, and of myself, and the opportunities I sometimes let slip by. Let me be a wild ocean, constant and seeking. Let me spill over the rocks of my life, salty and alive. Let me always reach. Let there be more.

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