“Tears are a river that takes you somewhere. Tears lift your boat off the rocks, off dry ground, carrying it downriver to someplace better.”
– Clarissa Pinkola Estés
One of my favorite podcasts is by the meditation teacher and gifted storyteller, Tara Brach. One of her recent talks, The River of Change, she told a story that seems timely to share with so many people losing loved ones tragically:
A troubled widower made his way to a wise old woman about his troubles. They went for a walk along a stream. She could see the pain in his face and he began to tremble as he asked, “Really, what’s the point? What’s the meaning to life?” She invited him to sit down on a stone near the stream. She took a long branch and dipped it into the stream swirling it in the water. “It all depends on what it means to you to be alive,” she said. In his sorrow the man dropped his shoulders and the woman gave him the branch. “Go on,” she said, “touch the branch to the water.” As he poked the branch in the running stream there was something comforting about feeling the water in his hand through the branch. She touched his hand and said, “You see, you can feel the water without putting your hand in the water. This is what meaning feels like.” The troubled man seemed puzzled. “Close your eyes and feel your wife now gone. That you can feel her in your heart without being able to touch her. This is how meaning saves us.” The widower began to cry. The old woman put her arm around him. “No one knows how to live or die. We only know how to love, and how to lose, and how to pick up branches of meaning along the way.”
My sister Kathy died forty-seven years ago this month, gone twice as long as she lived. When I listened to this story I did as the wise old woman said, I closed my eyes and felt my sister’s presence in my heart. For far too many years I tried not to feel the pain of her loss by waving the branch of despair in the air like a sword. Only after I wrote my life story could I let the branch of forgiveness touch the stream of memory. Then I remembered what meaning felt like, then I turned my numbness back into love, then I felt the water without putting my hand into the water.