The sojourner


When my children were young, and I was living alone with them in a place I didn’t want us to be, I found a way to nourish my soul. This was a troubled time in my life – I’d lost sight of the shore, drifting with torn sails and no means to navigate, at the mercy of elements beyond my control. I had frightening dreams at that time, where I’d be climbing a steep mountainside with my children clinging to my back. I’d see the cliff edge above me and push myself forward hand over hand, knowing my children depended on me to carry them safely over the top. Always in this recurring dream, I’d find the last hand hold and heave us over the cliff edge to safety. I’d breathe, lift my head and look out to what I thought would be a gently rolling landscape … but I’d find we were on a ledge … above me was another cliff face.  I’d feel such despair … I’d have to do it again, climb this steep rock face …carry my children to safety. I always woke at this point, exhausted …

I chastised myself constantly for not being as good as the mother I remembered from my childhood, the woman I had called Mum – I never matched up. Every day I willed myself to find more energy, more stamina, more patience. My body was fading … I wanted to disappear.

There were two things that loosened the nightmare. One was the belief that it would be better for my children to have a struggling mother, rather than no mother. I had lost two mothers in my childhood and was acutely aware of how that could distort the shape of a person – I didn’t want that for my children. And the other was, to re-connect with what nourished me as a child – to reach back to the hiatus between the losses. To do that, I had to push through an ocean of seaweed that seemed determined to pull me down to a grief so dense and heavy that I felt sure I would drown.

I began this journey by lying on the floor under the gas heater. It’s warmth and ssh offered a finger-hold on the now.

I’d imagine another place where I’d felt connected to the earth, to the sea, to the stones under my body, to the cries of the gulls overhead, to the smell of kelp drying in the sun, to the soft breeze that left a fine sprinkling of salt on my body, to the gentle applause of the waves as they fell back into the arms of the sea again and again and again. The rhythm of the tides and oceans and the earth itself would pulse through my veins reaching the tips of my toes and the worry lines on my brow. I was nothing, yet I was everything. I’d lie there for hours – lose sense of time – each moment was all there was of me, of everything. It was only in this moment, now this moment, now this moment that I existed.

Lying there under the heater I began to understand the paradox of grief. I began to embrace, rather than run from, my fragmented, visceral and cellular memories. I began to see a broken and cracked vessel marked by events, circumstances and happenstance – a shadow was taking form, this shadow was me. And I am still forming and transforming … in this moment, now this moment, now this moment, now this ….

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