That first day after my Mom’s passing, I stood in the Pacific waters of Ocean Beach. On the way there, I stopped at Stow Lake in the park. In Halifax, I walked along the water’s edge, ate meals looking out at the flowing waters and the lone birds floating on them. And, of course, cried many salty tears. Water without, water within.
In some traditions, tears feed the river on which the departed travel to the other side. Without them, they’re stranded on land or stuck in frozen ice. A few little drops on the cheek are not enough to get them across. They should flow freely and best if lots of people weep together. Maybe that’s why some cultures hire professional mourners, to insure the strength of the flow in case the family’s grief is too small.
Grief is a bad neighborhood in contemporary culture. We try to avoid it altogether or if we must drive through, we drive quickly and with the doors locked. We’re afraid of the folks who live there and rush to get to the bright lights of the mall. Like Holly Golightly, we want to go to Tiffany’s with its sparkling jewels, feeling like “nothing bad could ever happen to us there.”
I’m still making my way through my own private ceremonies to find the best way to accompany my Mom. Not entrenched in any one tradition of mourning and not satisfied with many of the models I see, I’m trying to stay alert to what feels right. I’m not in a hurry to get back to business as usual, but I am teaching back at school again, I did go immediately to an Orff Conference and am starting to realize one inch deeper that my “business as usual” is a perpetual grieving process for loss and vulnerability, held in the loving arms of song, dance and poetry. It’s transparently clear that Joy’s address is right at the border of Grief and there’s no route to get there that sidesteps that neighborhood. It’s clear that frozen grief is killing us, we who are alive to exult and celebrate are stuck in the cold ice of machines promising protection and distraction, but delivering only more alienation from the roots of our being.
Since we have lost the indigenous village ways of keeping the waters of life flowing freely, art is one of the few vehicles left to us. As Kafka eloquently put it:
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”
This work I have been blessed with, with music and children and community and the sacred act of creation at its center, is a glorious "business as usual." It is a powerful axe for that frozen sea. With laughter and tears, I set off to work with my Mom perpetually at my side—and my Dad and my teacher Avon and all the countless loved ones who left their scent in the air and perfume each class with their remembered presence.