When I found out that my cat was dying of cancer, I wanted one thing: To be around water. I wanted to dive down deep inside a lake; I wanted to swim fast laps in the salt water pool at the YMCA; I wanted to walk along the beach during high tide, the waves singing the beat of my stingy yet grieving heart.
I could do none of these, since I had injured my foot running a road race a few days before and was unable to walk, unable to move my leg without intense pain.
It’s so easy to keep moving, to run around driving here and there, visiting, hiking or running and using our busy lives as an escape or excuse from that oh-so-scary prospect of confronting ourselves.
I was forced to sit with my grief, and it wasn’t always easy. I walked around the house crying. I watched episodes of Boston Legal. I finished reading The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp, and I wept from the beauty and sadness of it all. I cried not only for my cat but for my sister, who had died years before, and for my father, who died when I was six, and my grandmothers and friends I had lost and friends I knew I was losing, old boyfriends and lovers, missed changes and lost opportunities, and all of the times I hadn’t stuck up for myself or had stuck up for myself at the wrong time or place or for the wrong reasons.
I didn’t write. I didn’t take a bath or eat healthy meals or pay my credit card bill or do anything constructive. Instead I felt. I hurt. I cried and remembered and cried and laughed and talked with my sisters on the phone.
Saturday night, my foot had healed enough that my partner and I headed out to Westchester Lagoon to paddle around the water in the summer twilight.
What is it about water that is so reflective, so redeeming? As I paddled around the lagoon, I felt stronger, more centered, and before long my writing voice returned, that commentary in my head, that shuffling of words and voices and characters and situations that is familiar as my own breath.
Sometimes when I’m swimming in a lake or even the pool, I wonder if this is how it felt in the womb, swimming around inside that warm and salty fluid, and I wonder if we all feel this, deep down inside, if we all long to be safe and nestled in warm again.
On the way back we paddled toward the sunset (it was around 10:30 p.m. by then), and I watched the shadows flicker across the water and I thought of what a perfect night it was, and for a small moment I was totally and completely happy, even in my grief.
What I’m reading now: Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde: A True Story, by Rebecca Dana