After ten years of swimming, I stopped when Eleanor died. She was one of several dear ones who had left the Earth. There was too much to tend, and part of my heart had stopped, unsure how to continue. Everyone called it grief, but below the name, I felt that the fire in my center was beginning to smoke. I kept my appointments and did the endless tasks, but some part of me felt hollow.
Slowly, over many months, I began to feel the presence of those I lost in simple things: in the sudden sweep of tall grasses, as if Eleanor were whispering something I couldn’t quite hear; in the light on a pigeon in Washington Square Park while someone played a saxophone, as if my father were smiling on a bench just out of view; and in the closed eyes of our new dog Zuzu while asleep, as if our dead, beloved dog Mira were slipping inside her to tell us she was near.
Then, one day in summer—after I had told their stories to everyone, after I had called to them so many times that my thread of grief joined the braid of silence that hoists the sun up every day—on one sunny day, I sadly gathered my swim gear and went to the pool. And as I slipped into the water, as I began to glide through that familiar depth, I started to cry, water meeting water. I felt myself enter my body again and realized I hadn’t wanted to swim because returning to my life, doing what I always did, would mean that these precious beings that I so love would truly be gone. Gone, as if never here. With each lap, I began to accept both their presence and disappearance, and stroke after stroke, the smoke in my heart began to clear. I kept moving through the water, which kindly parted for me, only to join behind me, as if I had never been here. And I could see that life parts for us all in this way. But now it seemed gentle and full of a quiet beauty.As I left the health club, the wind was lifting the tall grasses in the field beyond the parking lot, and I could feel it circle the earth, bowing and lifting the many trees and leaves along the way, sweeping pollen and spores from field to flower. I smiled in my sadness to feel the voices of time bow and lift me on the edge of the parking lot. And for a long moment, I could feel the presence of those who’ve come before sweep through me, lifting me into something so much more than me, only to settle me more deeply into life.
A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of someone you have lost and how they live on inside you.
This excerpt is from my book, Things That Join the Sea and the Sky (Sounds True, 2017).
*Photo credit: Guduru Ajay bhargav