"See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me." -How far I'll go
(Song by Lin-Manuel Miranda, from the film Moana)
There I was, face down on the carpet. They say that when your heart breaks, it shatters into a million pieces and that’s the start of grief.
I say it feels more like drowning. Held down by a force where you can’t get up but you can move. Submerged with the weight of feeling. Your mind will fragment and each piece, big or small, creates a new surface area for the aching to press in and swallow you whole.
It also feels like fire. Every nerve of your skin ablaze, and while the parts of you that broke are still inside, you want more than anything to unzip your body and step out. To get away from the intensity and steal the oxygen back from the torch that is now your soul.
See, if you are fragile, like any human is, even if they don’t know it. Falling apart means you can put things back together. You might have to hunt around for a few shards, or you could call it good and mend with some gaps, wounds for safekeeping.
Fire and water give no options. Ashes don’t reassemble and liquid never fully leaves the lungs.
There’s a drop, a sensation of falling, but would that I knew the mercy of ruins. Instead of all my strength and substance suffocated and disintegrated.
That’s what grief is like to me. It is a guest that stays too long and leaves only when it has worn you down. Allowing you to live petrified of its unexpected return. It doesn’t respect boundaries and thanks will never make it stop.
I remember every fiber of that carpet on my bedroom floor. The moments after a message sparked by a question I was curious enough to ask. The letters told me I was unwanted, unworthy, and marked rejection on my back.
As I sit here, I actually can’t remember how many years ago it was. Because that’s what grief does. All of a sudden there is no longer a before and after. Every memory suffices as confirmation or mockery of reality. You will wake up countless mornings praying it was just a bad dream, only to get up and face the heat fully aware that it will win by crushing your heart a little bit more, again.
There are so many forms of pathways created by the sorrow we bear. Sometimes I feel ashamed of voicing my pain. It is of a different kind. I have not known death of a loved one, loss of a baby, or physical sickness. But all of our heart breakings connect us to each other, and while some may be deeper and fiercer than any we have seen, each loss informs the shape of a peace we are looking for. This is the way. I call it: The Empath. And even if restoration awaits me within the span of this life, I will not leave. I interpret it as calling to stay. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.
I’ve been imagining a road as I wander and try to find my way home. In all the shapes grief may take, we seek the care of a thoroughfare; but the way is so narrow and for some, the journey will last until eternity.
In the story of the prodigal, the elder brother stays home and the younger one leaves. When the wanderer decides to return, his father runs to meet him. It sticks in my throat when I try to say I’m lost and need a welcome because in my identifiers, the father is not good, my older efforts were not enough and the youngest was cast out in their pursuit of life, desire, adventure, beyond. This will get you into trouble and death will have its way.
Until Sunday, and Advent changes course.
I hear words from a mother of faith with a brilliant imagination.
She invites me into the role of the father. The one by the road, watching, waiting. I go home and still mourn the lonely prodigal on a very long route alone, how can it be good father when the lost are out there? Even if I choose to stay.
I wait. Sister comes the next day. We know many different griefs together. At least I won’t walk alone this week.
We go see the latest Disney film, Moana. There is a magic deeper still and I remember the beginning of my story.
The empath is not a road. It is the ocean. Where the breakers push you out past isolated foundations and margins of grief the inhabitants are afraid to recall. There is the drowning and fire, but then you surface in a world without borders made of sun and water. Darkness comes but the flames within you are flung across the night sky. A spangled record of the wonders of your heart to show you where you have come from and guide you to where you wish to be. With only naming for craft you walk on the waves and know this brokenness is more than enough of a vessel to carry you home. The daughter becomes what the father could not. When she is the rescuer and not the rescued, evil is not destroyed; it is brought to peace. She is restorer of hearts and healer of worlds. In this wild, where waters collide with the presence of the sun, you know your way only by dead reckoning. Following a horizon that speaks to the freedom your insatiable heart longs for; life without boundaries, desire without shame, love without fear.
This is the empath. You know it. You must trust your deaths to pregnant stars to find it.
Oceans don’t have roads.
"We know the way" (Song by Lin-Manuel Miranda, from the film Moana)