I’ve been haunted — and comforted — by this passage from Ruth Ozeki’s wonderful novel, A Tale for the Time Being.
In the novel, Nao, who’s a teenage girl in Japan, is very worried about several serious problems, and she’s reflecting on a conversation she’d had with her great-grandmother, who is a Buddhist nun:
It’s the cold fish dying in your stomach feeling. You try to forget about it, but as soon as you do, the fish starts flopping around under your heart and reminds you that something truly horrible is happening.
[Great-grandmother] Jiko felt like that when she learned that her only son was going to be killed in the war. I know, because I told her about the fish in my stomach, and she said she knew exactly what I was talking about, and that she had a fish, too, for many years. In fact, she said she had lots of fishes, some that were small like sardines, some that were medium-sized like carp, and other ones that were as big as a bluefin tuna, but the biggest fish of all belonged to Haruki #1, and it was more like the size of a whale. She also said that after she became a [Buddhist] nun and renounced the world, she learned how to open up her heart so that the whale could swim away.
I love this line…she learned how to open up her heart so that the whale could swim away.
Not to overcome grief, or forget grief, or leave grief behind, but to release it into the great depths.