In the wake of all this loveliness and joy I had a vision, a memory of one of the many stories that comprise my experience of the world: A beautiful, young, dark-haired man on a bike, riding through European countryside towards the spot where his mother’s body lay buried. He lays his bike down on the ground, and then his body, to spend the night sleeping on her grave.
The man is my father, and today, within the echoes of all that stunning joy such a short time ago, I felt the echoes of his grief. Intensely. I wept for him on that night, and on those countless other nights where he bore the horror of his war-torn country and the uncertainty of his future on a frame reduced to the bare minimum of thin muscle and skin on bone, on a stomach empty but for potato peels found in the garbage. I wept for him, and for my mother, and for their parents, and my aunts and uncles and cousins—an entire tribe that in some ways still remembers and carries the pain and injury and horror of that time.
Many years later, when medical tests showed the record of those lean years in the form of much scar tissue in his stomach, my father simply said it’s a good reminder not to be wasteful or ungrateful for daily bread. It’s a hard reminder. But I am conscious again of how gratitude and pain are so often braided together, and of how these lumpy multi-textured braids make up the fabric of our experience.
I’m also conscious of how, if we are open to the undercurrents of our lives, these braids carry the potential to expand and enrich and strengthen our being. Running headlong into my mortality two years ago altered me, yes, in ways potentially wonderful, but in darker ways also. It has given me a heightened sensitivity to life and love and joy (it sounds trite, but I have never loved my husband more), but the heightened sensitivity is bittersweet, and includes sorrow, fear, and anger in doses I was not conscious of before.
You may at times want to shy away from my honesty about this place I’m in, and that’s fine, shy away if you’re not comfortable. But just as we all needed to talk about the heartbreak of young love many years ago, or the rigorous and relentless challenges of our sleepless babies and, later, our adolescents determined to find their own way in the world, I need words now also, to help me navigate this place of heightened awareness I am in some ways mostly alone with.
As the voice and drums and lyrics of a few short nights ago continue to echo in my body, I am conscious of the anchor writing is for me. And you, my family and friends and readers, are the ocean into which I throw this anchor, because, as Serena Ryder so beautifully puts it, “Your love is like an ocean that always takes me home; whispering wind is blowing, telling me I’m not alone…I know that I’ll never drown.”
Your love is an ocean, it truly is.