December 24, 2015. Warburton Pantry.
I’m not finished crying yet, I say.
Ah, says my friend, the Dancer. I could cry forever.
She sweeps me in to her arms, lissom as bare winter branches even though we’re sweating in the heat, and tells me she loves me. She’s one of two of my closest friends in the space tonight who will hold me and say they love me before I go home through the late-night dark.
It’s a few nights before Christmas, and the last of David and Meredith’s 5Rhythms dances in Fitzroy for the year. In that earlier evening class (there are two, one after the other), the light of high summer casting strange, long shadows over all of us, many of us dance in tears. However we may feel about Christmas, we hold so much at this time of year: some of us too much.
David ends the night with this song, River, originally by Joni Mitchell. I carry it home on my lips.
I don’t like Christmas. I have a river nearby, but it’s not one that ever freezes for skating. Only some part of me wants to skate far away on the deep relief of a cold dream of river. Other parts are joyful in the presence of my children and many loved ones. And in simply being here at quiet bliss with my inner and outer landscapes. This doesn’t make the part that dreams of skating away any less lovely or real.
After my father and brother drowned, there was a time, obscenely soon, in my view, when some people started telling my family it was time we stopped grieving and started to get over it. No. There are no time limits on grieving. From person to person, there are shifts and movements. But nobody has to stop their mourning process to help others to feel comfortable or to fit in with imposed timelines.
It was Christmas Day when I casually said goodbye to my father and brother, both of whom I adored and who adored me, as I left my parents’ house after lunch. I can still see their faces as they walked me to the door; still hear their voices. I would never see or hear them again, except on the inside. I’m grateful that I do have those goodbyes in my memory, from a few days before they drowned. But Christmas Day hurts. The sadness at losing them comes closest to the surface for me on that day. My mind replays the goodbyes, still in disbelief that I closed the front door and walked down the path and that these two cherished men were then gone to me.
And I’m holding other losses, some of them crushing and devastating. Like my friend the Dancer, I could cry forever for some of these losses. It may be that I do, because I’m sensitive and romantic, and I love deeply and passionately. Crying forever is not my whole story. It is not all that is here. I can cry forever and still be happy and laughing in full presence. I can hold a place for lament and the fierce pain of loss, and still be a joyful, whole person. It’s pretending not to cry that breaks me. Furthermore, for some, the grief really is all or most of their reality; I want to express here that such a life isn’t wasted. It’s not my experience (although a couple of years ago I believed for a while that it would be), but if it’s yours, or that of someone you know, it too can be a beautiful and rich existence. Sadness, like everything, is what it is, and it doesn’t have to be different to please anyone else or to fit in with a festive season. Embracing exactly what is here and holding it in love is what can make the difference in feeling at peace with the self and the world.
In the dance space on Tuesday night, some of us cry as we dance, holding reverent space for all of our grieving: all the room’s grieving, and all the world’s. The grieving of the earth itself.
I am here now in a cafe in Warburton on Christmas Eve, watching people buying delicious things to eat tomorrow, and doing their last-minute shopping. I have shopping to do too and gifts to wrap. Just now, though, I have had my journal open on the table, writing out a long, cool flow of river, in reverence for those of us who feel our sadness intensely at this time of year. Beneath that, I’m hoping my writing river can open a graceful space for everything that we are all holding in and holding out.
Below, see the image ‘Meditation’: I am working on a poem responding to this photograph, as part of my book project with Kate Baker. Its spaciousness is alluring to me today.