Swimming to the Surface

I am diving inside a wrecked ship. My torch the only illumination. Passage
is frequently blocked by debris. Superstructures are so festooned with anemone
and seaweed, their function is unrecognizable. Microbial colonies at work
oxidizing iron form delicate fingers of rust, dissolving at the slightest
touch. The ship has been down here a long time.

If you go deep enough in the ocean, it is easy to become disoriented, unable
to discern the difference between up and down. Disorientation while diving can
be perilous. I once dove with someone who, already narcoleptic at that depth,
dropped her flashlight and headed toward it, convinced she needed to go toward
its light.

Since the deeper we go, the more frequent and longer the decompression stops
on the way back up must be, she ran the risk of running out of air. These
decompression stops – which allow for the elimination of dissolved gases from
the body – are critical. Decompress too quickly and the excess nitrogen can be
painful…or lethal.

I have been here before but with the passing of time the landscape has
altered. The ship has shifted, settled. The silt is deeper. I am no longer sure
of my way. I release a few air bubbles. They rise topside, showing me the way
up and out. Because my explorations took me so deep, I will need several
decompression stops. To the uninitiated, it may look as if I am reluctant to
leave my watery environment.

But I am following the small silver balls of oxygen. Keeping an eye on my scuba
tank gauges and taking whatever time is needed to adjust to the changes in
pressure, I float toward the light of the sun.

Spilled Tears

I’ve been collecting my tears. Tiny bottles with stoppers are next to my bed, on my kitchen counter, in my car’s gear well, and at my art studio. Their contents are somewhat misleading because the stoppers are not airtight, allowing tears to evaporate, leaving an amber residue.

But, clearly, I’ve cried most often in bed because that bottle, almost half full, held the most tears. Or did until this morning when I managed to upend the bottle and spill almost everything inside.

Here’s a thing you may not know about tears. Our bodies produce three kinds of tears. One kind clears our eyes of smoke or exhaust. The second kind lubricates our eyes and contains an anti-bacterial enzyme that protects them from infection.

The third kind of tears are emotional tears. Emotional tears contain stress hormones. One purpose of this kind of tears, then, is to release emotional pain and to wash toxins out of our system. This may be why the emotional tears collected in my bottles smell putrid. I had to strip my freshly-made bed and throw sheets and robes into the washer.

But what I was most upset about was the loss of my tears. You see, these bottles are intended to become part of an art installation. I’ve bought a vintage doctor’s bag, the kind with small vials pasted with yellowed and unfamiliar labels. Each bottle of tears will be tagged with its location and given a place in the medical kit.  The title of the installation is “The Healer.”

But back to this morning. After I filled the washer and had calmed myself somewhat, it occurred to me to look at this situation as a metaphor.

Tears, kept too long, become rancid.

I Usually Drink My Tea Black

One reliable measure of my day is how much sugar I put in my tea. This morning I filled half my dessert spoon from last night. (That I nibbled on something sweet before bed tells you something about my state of mind then.)

Funny, I would have thought I needed more.

That Which I Refuse in Myself

That which I refuse in myself, says Jung, will appear in my life as an event.

The day started off well. I felt good, strong, confident.

As the hours passed, a weight in my stomach slowly grew and I felt myself sicken.

I became distracted. Unable to focus, I wandered the house. Made cup of tea after cup of tea.

Then it came to me. It was the phone call, the text that had not come. A slender shoot of hope, carefully tended, now drowned by a sadness beyond bearing. At this I burst into wild tears. “I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know. Oh my God, I don’t want to know.”

Some day, one soon though not today, I will let it in, this thing I do not wish to acknowledge. Some day, one soon though not today, I will let myself know what I already know. For my own sake, I must. This I do realize.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

The Rain Woke Me

Elsewhere

One of my friends in mourning posted on Facebook yesterday, abiding love for the departed in every word. Half way through, I burst into tears and began to keen, the sound guttural and unrecognizable as my own.

This morning I went to the bookshelf, looking for a poem I once read to the one who has – yet again – left me. A poem, I remember, he hated.

Finding it now, I realize with a shock that it is about infidelity, about a spouse betrayed. “I wanted to sleep neither with her nor without her.”

Then here is the story I was looking for.

One time he beat his year-old

daughter with a broomstick.

Breaking a rib bone, and as

she screamed she kept crawling

back to her father. Where else

should she look for comfort?

We Don’t Shoot Our Wounded

Anger

molten as the Earth’s core

and just as deep.

Cooled

by a remark

made by a woman I had just met.

Betrayed too

she was angry enough

she said

“to want to smack them.”

But

sighing

she said

“We don’t shoot our wounded.”

And just like that

I was reminded of the unacknowledged agony

behind the deceit

and was filled

with the compassion

of the Buddha.

(Though somewhere

an ember still smolders.)

Lies I Have Told

It’s OK.

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t bother me.

I’m OK.

Nothing’s the matter.

I don’t mind.

I’d like to.

I didn’t say that.

I didn’t do it.

I didn’t mean it that way.

No.

Yes.

I did do it.

I would never do that.

I’m fine.

Which?

The blip on the horizon

which slowly comes into

horrifyingly clear view

or

the sudden flash,

annihilation without warning.

My father lingered

for several days

giving his children

time.

My stepfather was

a phone call from the police

in the middle of the night.

Which?

The agony of waiting

or

finality without farewell.

The Most Bitter Lesson

I cannot save him. I cannot save anyone. I could not save my mother. Or my father. Or my siblings. I have helped people along the way. The neighbor with cancer who needed someone to step in. The students, full of self-doubt, who needed someone to believe in them. The family member with a mental illness who needed someone to care.

But I cannot save him.

It’s not your job, friends say. But I’m his wife, I say. His best friend. If I do not warn him, no one else will. No one else has. He has to save himself, they say. Your job is to save yourself.

I know from the Twelve Steps that only he can save himself. And that he must do it for himself, not for me or anyone else. But here is where I get stuck. I see the wound in him. The young boy, lying in a corner, curled against the pain that immobilizes him, snarling like a wild animal at those who would tend him.

But I see too that trying to save him is also a way of hanging on, that not walking away is pretending I am not losing him. I promised him I would never leave him, I say. And that too is a way of avoiding the pain of not being chosen.

I thought we had embarked together on a spiritual adventure meant to help us both grow. To heal. I am shattered to realize I am alone on this journey. That he has abandoned both me and the journey.

Years ago I wrote what friends told me was a message to myself: But you want your wound bleeding and raw, willing to sacrifice even your soul mate, to keep from changing who you think you are. I think I see this in him now, but what do I know of his spiritual journey, what he is meant to learn? The real issue is What am I meant to learn?

What you are unwilling to walk away from, is where you get stuck.