Monday, January 25, 2016

Voices of Experience: The Weight of Things Un-named (on Where to Go with the Heavy Things)

by Joel McKerrow

When nothing makes sense anymore I turn to the ocean and to the river. I have found that grief is a grindstone and so is the ocean.

My friend had twins in 2015, one of them drastically sick. She has spent most of his five months with him in hospital. On New Year’s day he stopped breathing. The ambulance came, rushed him again to the hospital. I do not know what will happen with the little boy. Neither does she. What a way to start the new year. She told me that it is, “hard to know where to go with these experiences”. I wholeheartedly agreed. No words.

These things too heavy for the naming, what do we do with them? Where do we go when the loss comes? When our shoulders bow under its weight?

Another friend lost her daughter twenty five years ago. She still carries around her absence. It has become more familiar to her than her presence. My parents lost two children, twins, right after they were born. It is not something we talked about growing up. Too heavy. I shall never forget the phone call to tell me that one of my high-school sweethearts, only a few months before her wedding, had suddenly and inexplicably died in the night. I was a wedding photographer back then, had three weddings to shoot that week, the camera, it was the heaviest that it has ever been.

And I am not just speaking of death. There are other things too heavy for the naming. Like touch unwanted. Like keeping his secret. Like blade on wrist on tiled floor. Like slamming the door. Like the drop of your stomach when you have been found out. Like the drop of your stomach when you find them out. Like the silent emptiness that fills a space once all the people and the laughter have left. Like the crippling feeling that no matter what you do it is never enough. Like the loneliness that comes after a night on social media. Like bruised eye hidden under dark glasses. These things too are a loss and a grieving and most often we do not have the language to speak of them. So where do we go with them? The unspeakable things. Where do we take them?

Usually I run to the water. Moving water. When nothing makes sense anymore I turn to the ocean and to the river. I have found that grief is a grindstone and so is the ocean. They break us apart, they rough away the sharp and the piercing. They smooth us out, even as we hide in their depths. When a child dies those who are left behind are forever scraped across the rocks of their despair. When any un-named weight falls heavy upon you, it is always the same. No words. Grief.

So I let myself sink under the water and stretch out my lungs beneath the spray. A surrender. Let myself be smashed. The wave that breaks and turns and tosses and smooths me down. The grindstone of grief. On the beaches is where we pick up the pieces. Sea-glass green. Pain too is a baptism. Perhaps, in the end, they are the one and same sacrament. Pain and baptism. They are both a loss of breath and a coming home to the depth. A dying, a drowning, a beginning again. The ocean decides when she is finished with us. She gives us back to the world of men. On the beaches is where we pick up the pieces. Smashed now being made smooth.

And I am not saying that this is the answer or the cure, to place yourself in running water. I am not saying that there is an answer or a cure. As much as we demand such. What I am saying is that the swirling ocean is as good a place to hide as any. To hide like grain of sand, like the smashed glass. What I am saying is that the only place of healing I have found is the unfolding of oneself into the arms of something much larger than oneself. A surrender.

Some say we should turn to God in such moments of despair. And I guess this is my way of doing so. The ocean. God. Enfolding my own story of that which cannot be named into the hands of some larger story. Weight held by weight. Like my son holds his hand in my hand. I do not know what this looks like for you. I do not claim to know where you should go with these experiences, this weight. I only know my own attempts to pry gripping fingers away that I might be able to let something out into the ocean. To not hold the grief back. To give myself to the waters of surrender that they might someday smooth me out.

On the beaches is where we pick up the pieces. Shattered glass turned sea-glass green. Hold it in your hand. You hold what was, what is, what ever could be. You hold it all in this moment. It still doesn’t make sense. But you no longer need it to do so. It still hurts, it always will. It is still heavy. The weight of things un-named. But somehow it becomes just light enough to keep on walking.

Joel McKerrow is a writer, speaker, educator, community arts worker and one of Australia’s most successful internationally touring performance poets. Find him on Face Book and on his website at This post appeared originally on Joel's blog and is reprinted here with his permission

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