The Well of Grief

Those who will not slip

Beneath the still surface on the well of grief

Turning down through its black water

To the place we cannot breathe

Will never know the source

From which we drink

The secret water – cold and clear

Nor find in the darkness – glimmering

The small round coins

Thrown by those who wished for something else.

David Whyte – The Well of Grief

We spend so much time avoiding our emotional core.  If we’re going to talk about ‘core’, let’s go deeper than tone in the transversus abdominis and exercise our truth-telling muscle as well.  We grow younger to our death each day.  To really enter your death – and sometimes even worse, your living grief – is to have the breath squeezed out of you.

Once I was returning my Dad’s old sardine carrier to the mooring – showing off in early summer before I had my ‘boat feel’ in – and I overshot, tangling the mooring pennant in the propeller.  The rule is: you tangle it, you fix it.  Hitting that Maine-in-June ocean was so instantly rigidly frigid that it was all I could do not to suck in water.  I flipped the couple of coils off the shaft, cutting my thumb to the bone on the the blade, but I didn’t notice.  Surfaced, into the rowboat like a dolphin, one swift movement both powered and hampered by the grip of cold.  Only then did I bleed, drops splattering on the thwarts as I shook without control.

In some moments I am overwhelmed with grief, sometimes for weltschmertz, sometimes for sins more personal, and I am reminded of this cold, this icy distance from the warm surface touch that has filled my working days.  But far better to exercise this muscle, the ability to simply stand this cold, this separation than to throw the coins of wishing or trying to make it all right with your perfect offering (of a temple with a toned transversus). Let the breath be squeezed from you as you enter your deepest, blackest coldest grief; then let go into the shaking that reflexively warms you back into the world of contact, a deeper and fuller breath then follows, the one that says in no uncertain terms, “I am alive.”

You cannot have Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.  Jesus cannot be both truly despondent and at the same time triumphant as he dies upon the cross – not and have a consistent theology.  I know, Christianity is open to hundred interpretations, and some Biblical scholar could reconcile “Why has Thou forsaken me?” (He died a real human death for your sins) with “I and my Father are One” (He died a symbolic death to return with the Kingdom of Heaven), but if you are a Christian (and though steeped in it, I am not) then it seems to me you must stand to one side of this divide or the other.  For me, the former slips me beneath the still surface of the well of grief, while the latter has me throwing coins in the well of wishes.

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One Response to “The Well of Grief”

  1. Amanda Cizek Says:

    Your well of grief is my ‘2×4 moment.’ My father, now gone 11 years, being the source of that grief. It is really a combination of the two now that I think of it… with out warning, the missing of my father his me like a 2×4 and I sink into that well of grief. As unbearable as it can be, I am grateful for these moments, knowing that they are the closest I will ever got to my father as long as I breathe.

    As for Jesus, I will take John, thank you… no coin tossing for him.

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