I will start by admitting that I am not very good at coping with despair, my own or anyone else’s. Things have been hard lately, for multiple reasons, so I’ve been taking myself down to the Bay these mornings for quiet times by the water, watching the morning melt off the dark clouds coming in from the ocean and munching on chocolate which is, after all, sacred food for many indigenous peoples.
The seabirds I was accustomed to see filling these morning skies all these years are down to a handful of gulls and cormorants, and the seals I used to watch slipping in and out of the waves seem to be gone. Even the red-winged blackbirds! In my short lifetime, the wildlife here has all but disappeared!
My heart is heavy as I let myself doze off sitting on this bench in the growing light – a bench dedicated to a friend I knew for many years – and I pray for some sign of reassurance that we will make it through, even though it doesn’t look good, I have to admit…anyhow…please!
I fell asleep, hearing the wet rhythms of water against the shore rocks lulling my anxious heart, and the occasional call of a seagull. And then something caused my eyes to open, and in the air above me six pelicans sailed across in a perfect V – and then fourteen more (I counted them) in a gaggle of wings and flurries, as if catching up to reassure me that pelicans, at least, were still here, even after their species had apparently died out from the effects of DDT. For years they were gone from our skies, but we apparently had caught our mistake in time and here they were, back over the water, sleek and beautiful!
I believe the birds. And indeed, also the seal who popped her sleek head out of the water just now and dove seamlessly under the waves right in front of me, as if to reassure me. I believe she was smiling.
We had caught our mistake and healed it…
My own life – and no doubt each of our lives – is studded with mistakes and humiliations and unfair punishments that we have survived and hopefully learned from. Living in frightening times we are all under stress – ‘traumatized’ is the word of the day – trying to do our best under the duress of injustices beyond naming, insane economics, racism and fear, trying to not get harmed in the melee while not hurting others, but our skins are thin – mine are, at least – and our insecurities are like sore thumbs that keep getting banged by the same hammer.
O – ouch!
Then the old hurts resonate and we feel helpless with shame and despair. It’s too hard, we cry. No, not again!
For me, when I am taken by surprise by some new shaming situation my memory is immediately triggered back into one of my life’s greatest humiliations, my wedding day when my father slapped me across the face in front of the guests! (This sickening story is one I never wish to recall, but always do.) The point is that I went numb and almost gave up – and in fact took my new husband aside in the hallway he scuttled me to, and offered him annulment if he was having second thoughts about marrying into my family.
I meant it, too.
“You’re my lawfully wedded wife,” he whispered, tears in his eyes to match mine, and we retreated to the Coat Room to cry together before slipping out and starting what would be our marriage of 57 years, which turned out indeed to be an ongoing adventure – a damn good one, and pretty sane, all things considered.
My father died before his 50th birthday, may he rest in peace.
The marks are there, yes they are, and many wounds still unhealed but together we made a go of living well in a troubled world no matter the obstacles we had to climb over. No matter how hopeless it all looked – Herb was, after all, a childhood survivor of the Nazis – we learned how to walk through the fires of our time and treat each other well in the process.
Together. Learning how to love.
Scared to death much of the time. But together.