The Joy Menu #64: Tears
Tears, too, like any precipitation, find their way out of one sea and into another. It all gets washed away.
Often, the emotions are trapped.
I can tell they are there, thrumming with energy, wings buzzing against shut glass. But they can’t get out; no escape, no release. They are vaporous, a subterranean gas, pressure building; or lava, agitated and wet beneath a crust of dry earth.
Is it self-protection that holds them in? Numbness? Repression?
Once, grief was a force for their expulsion—Kafka's axe. It cut through with a mad and swift violence, bringing up pain, fear, frustration, all in their fullness and fury.
Now, the axe of Sunday—dull. The axe of Tuesday—blunt. The axe of remembering—just a poke.
Does time even heel the earth’s wounds? (Is that what land built of lava is: healed earth?)
Or have I lost the thread of this metaphor?
When you study writing, Kafka’s line is often trotted out: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”
It’s meant to instruct the nascent creative to dig deep when engaging with their craft. To write toward meaning and movement and feeling—not skirt the surface or settle with what doesn’t shatter.
But, go a few sentences back:
“We need 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.”
Like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves.
That’s no metaphor. Kafka was writing about grief.
Here it is: grief—felt so much, so fast; a mass of bats let loose into the sky, tangled and blind and hungry. Only the sky is your chest and mind.
And then they go quiet.
Remember the white halls of St. Joseph’s? How they saw you red-eyed and puffy, how they watched your private anguish, unblinking and cold? An anguish as private as a city bus (and as uncomfortable)? An anguish as familiar to a hospital as the beeping of monitors and the yawn of automatic glass doors?
I’ve written about those hallways before.
I’ve written about that night when the terminal news cracked us open, when we waited for the doctor to cut open his brain, when we waited for him to wake, when we waited for him to skirt death or die…
But what is a grief narrative if not a circling of gray water, spinning, spinning down an open drain?
When lava cools, you have land. Solid. Inhabitable. Even fertile.
When ice shatters, it melts. The result, then, is a flowing out to sea, a washing away.
Tears, too, like any precipitation, find their way there. Out of one sea and into another.
It all gets washed away.
And perhaps that’s why we hold on?
Since hurting at the loss is our last connection to the lost, our last hold on that life—perhaps if we stop feeling it, we’ll lose that last lost thing again.
So: not so much numbness, as fear. Fear of letting go, fear of losing hold, fear of another death—the death of even the pain of death.
What a drag, grief. That even in moving through it, it whips us with its tail.
Onward toward creative joy,
"But what is a grief narrative if not a circling of gray water, spinning, spinning down an open drain?"