Switching strokes

She smiled, but there was sadness in her smile; even now she felt forebodings of the coming pain, the air she breathed was heavy with the storm that was about to burst. (Honoré de Balzac, Le Père Goriot, 1835)

The keys of the piano are heavy, and my heart thrills at the tension between unplayed and played notes and all the richness of resonance and volume and cascade the old brown piano holds hidden inside herself. I run fingers through the chords flowing from my memory, chords to a song of lament. Putting music to the emotion calms me, and there is even a smile hedging it's way into the corners of my mouth.


The front room is dark, the bitter cold grayness of January's sunset casting the children's window decorations in relief. I am the frozen observer, and the only activity about my body is trapped inside the mind.

I had a false hope that the ocean of pain held in my story would eventually soak into the ground, disappear into the bedrock under my feet. As with all false hopes, the destruction of this idea undid me. Six months I've walked on water, with joy insurmountable. Someone suggested I turn my mind from the ocean, forget it's there. For just a second I looked down at the ocean, contemplating. Could I leave this behind? Instead, the hems of my pants were suddenly wet as I felt myself sinking back in. Escape from pain? Possible for some. Impossible for many.

My counselor's voice is a soothing melody over the phone lines. She tells me to swim through it. There's no ignoring the ocean. Now you must swim.

I do, stroke after stroke, those moments coming every now and then when I breathe in a wave of water and panic that I can't make this swim. Oxygen-starved brain cells create a firestorm of anxiety. But instead of trucking on with my poor stroke and my mouth filled with water, I will flip on my back and float for a while. I feel every teardrop that made up this ocean of pain. Still beneath me. But I'm looking up at the sky, and the deeps aren't so terrifying.

Maybe this is how you escape madness: to switch strokes in the middle of the swim, and stare at the clouds moving across the azure. I'm no less sodden, no less in the middle of the ocean. But at least I'm looking up. And up there is the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation nor shadow of turning. (James 1:17)


*Photos from Amelia's play camera