I know you. I’ve traveled not beside you, because we travel alone. My body moved in its own trajectory, my boarding passes different than yours, my luggage one suitcase, one backpack, one purse. But, collectively, we’ve traversed so much terrain. I recognize you.
Whatever accidents of birth befall us, we still carry ourselves. Those selves are complex. They do not know the language of sociology, anthropology, or taxonomy. That skin is too tight, too narrow, too sharp at the corners. I want you, reader, to cut yourself loose and be free. Do not fall for the lies of limitation. And do not fall for declarative statements, mine or anybody else’s.
I met a brother after decades of absence. He belonged not to me, and meeting him again meant he could not stay bound up in the pacific, warm tidal pool of memory. In meeting my Korean brother, I lost him again, no longer relegated to the safe, unchanging fondness of remembered childhood sibling, companion, one who pulled me from piles of sand into which I fell after neighborhood children pushed me. A brother who said, “Get up,” who encouraged me to spit the grit from my mouth, and held my hand as he led me down the street, away from the pile of sand, upright, dirty, and walking.
This is what happens when we meet the past, in the present. It cannot stay frozen. It by definition moves, and then begins to sprout wings, legs, feathers and vocal chords. It starts to move. When you animate memory, you animate your own life. It will change. You will change. You may grieve again that thing which you sought to find, and did find. But, I know there is a part of you that wants to grow, be alive, more than the part of you that wants to stay stuck as though a frozen pond, reflecting boots crunching past and winged birds migrating to warmer climes. I am not saying there is not desert. I am not saying there is not deceit and fear, or that it will be easy to find respite and a warm place to stay. I am saying, though, that you are limitless. I am saying, though, that it doesn’t end at the frozen pond.
I will tell you what I know, and what I love.
“Tree trunks as big as this room.” The ocean. That beautifully formed sentence. Cantilevers. Lewis Thomas’s writing. Allow yourself to be fully formed. It’s the only way.
This is what grief does: it makes us capable of holding onto something for long enough so that we can revisit the frozen places and animate them again. You must know the line from Toni Morrison’s novel, the one where Amy tells Sethe, “Anything dead coming back to life hurts.” You must know.
You would not travel if you believed only in what you saw immediately before you. That is why we are travelers. That is why I love you.
When a ghost animates itself, we get to remember what we forced asleep years before. Yes, the memory grows wings and feathers and starts receding far from us, but we get ourselves back, that part of us stuck in that moment, like the girl who in her fear of graveyards died of fright because she stabbed a knife into the back of her own nightgown and into the soft dirt of a freshly dug grave.
It often looks like a small girl walking away from her brother, the clasp of two children’s hands—a boy and a girl—slowly releasing. When you choose life, it may feel like letting go the tight grip you have on a brother’s warm hand and walking away.