deep calls to deep

The aquariums broke, the waters gushing out over the floor. The emotionless, frozen faces of my mother’s porcelain dolls, propped upright in their high chairs, stared, unflinching, at the inundating overflow.

It was a dream within a dream. In it, I was searching for 2 aquariums to purchase as gifts for 2 young girls, but new aquariums were far too expensive and so I was looking for second hand ones. Finally, throwing my proverbial arms in the air, I said, “What does it matter! They’ll just break anyway” It was then that I ‘saw’, in my dream’s eye, the water pouring from the tanks like water over a dam before unseeing eyes. 

Upon awakening, it occurred to me that I have had the ocean on my mind a lot recently. Or rather, that the ocean has been asserting itself into my mind- a Christmas gift trip to the National Aquarium, along with a few ocean themed books, purchased for my granddaughters, a small salt-water aquarium appearing surprisingly upon my own ‘wishlist’, an impromptu trip to the seashore with my husband before his upcoming surgery. Yesterday, while browsing the shops in this seaside town, it was a puzzle of fishes that drew my eye, and this morning, the chapter in the book I brought with me here told a story of a Selkie, one of those mythical beings who lives as a seal in the ocean, but who, once a month, on full moon, can rise from the waters, take off her sealskin, and dance. 

Similar to mermaids, these beings come onto land at great cost, for if a Selkie’s skin is misplaced or stolen when she has removed it, she cannot return to her life in the sea. Unlike the tale of the Little Mermaid, however, the Selkie of the tale told in this book never longed to be fully human; she was truly at home in her skin. She did not fall in love with the handsome human male and ask to undergo the painful transformation/severing of herself, but instead was tricked into marrying him when he stole her sealskin from the rocks while she was out swimming with her sisters. She had no choice then but to go with him, as he promised only to return her skin to her after she lived with him for 7 years, if she was not happy.  Of course, as these things go, at first the man was kind, and soon she bore him a child, whom she loved dearly.

Still, before long she found herself stealing away to the sea, longing to find her way back to herself.  And as the years went by, she grew increasingly sadder and weaker. Finally, one day her daughter, seeing how frail and empty her mother was becoming, sought the wisdom of the old woman at the edge of the woods, who told the daughter that her mother must help herself, that, though the wise woman knew the healing herbs of the earth, she did not know the ways of the sea. Her mother must somehow get herself to the Old Woman of the World, who lived in the underground cave in the cliffs at the edge of sea.

The daughter returned to her mother with what she had learned and begged her mother to go. In the end, it was the daugther’s anguish at her mother’s despair that finally roused the Selkie to attempt the trip. Weary and feeble, the journey was arduous, stormy, and fraught with peril, and the Selkie almost abandoned hope along the way.

Until one day, near the edge, it seemed she heard singing, a vibration coming from deep within the earth. Following the resonance, she descended the edge of the cliff, and beneath the water found the entrance to the cave of the Old Woman, who revived her to her previous vitality with a nourishing drink of medicinal sweetness from her cauldron, which contained all the herbs and seeds of the world. Then the Old Woman instructed her on where she must go and what she must do to find her way home.

So, the selkie woman boarded a curragh and rowed across the sea to an island, where, as the Old Woman had foretold, within its center cave lay the dead bodies and skinned hides of her slain sisters, victims of a seal hunt. At last, Selkie mourned… and mourned, singing the songs of lament she had been taught to sing by the Old Woman…..until the bodies of her dead sisters reformed. That is, all but one, whose skin the Selkie, with deep sadness and reverence, took to her breast, inhaling the familiar scent of her long lost sister.

Before donning the skin, however, the Selkie knew that she must go to her daughter, for whom she made the long journey back across the sea. Upon their reunion, however, her daughter somehow understood that her mother must go, that there was ‘something so deeply a part of her nature that she must not resist it- the need to find her element, to find her place, to find her home’ . And so Selkie slipped the young skin of her sister atop of her old, life-experienced bones and disappeared beneath the waves.

Selkie returns to her daughter once a year, but her daughter can see that she is different somehow. She is at peace. She is herself. Selkie comes to tell her daughter the stories and teach her to sing the songs of the sea, the songs that will call her kin, the songs of mourning, the songs that will take her soul home.

The last line of the story, as told in the book, is this one

 “All mourning will be transformed into joy, if you have endurance enough to make the journey, and courage enough to face the Old Woman in the cave’

If Women Rose Rooted, Sharon Blackie

And so I wonder. This call to the water in me.

This call to soul in me

As I think back on these years, and the times I have professed to be weary, the ways that I have bit-by-bit adapted to living here on the surface, the times I have said aloud, the words, that I would ‘go back for her one day’, after the years of childrearing were completed. I wonder if I relinquished that journey too soon, when it became too difficult, if I turned back too soon, my fear of abandoning loved ones keeping me from following that call.

I wonder if a soul is that slippery, that one can lose it so.

I think about my lost youth and the ways I likely have never completely sung the songs of mourning, not wanting to admit that anything was lost—for to do so would have meant, somehow, that the life I had ‘landed’ upon instead was unworthy. I think of being a young girl, naïve, never suspecting that there are those who would take what doesn’t belong to them, what I didn’t even know was steal-able.

I think about how rich (and also scary) my life was when I went diving in those depths a decade or so ago, when my grief ripped open the door to that cave and thrust me into its arms in such a manner that I could not hold up my usual shields to cover its vastness. I think of the ways that I feel like myself, ‘at home in my skin’, when I am ‘out there’ in my place of belonging. I think about the pain that both distracts me and beckons me. I think of my daughter’s anguish, my mother’s emptiness. I think about the years of surviving that and what it has done to my energy.

I think about those aquariums unable to contain it all, the unseeing eyes of my mother’s dolls, my own sense of uselessness. I think about a being of such vastness encaged within glass. I wonder if its a good thing that I realize they will break. 

I think about my deep sorrows and griefs, this recently opened new/old sorrow in me, its invitation, if I let it be one, if I let it carry me out to sea, in my boat, if I let myself swim in those depths, if I let my voice sing.

The songs it knows how to sing.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Karen H
    Dec 07, 2018 @ 09:02:57

    How I wish we would have connected when I lived near you. Our journeys are so similar–I would have loved to have had you for a companion.
    I am currently beginning to sing the songs of mourning for the losses in my childhood and in my life.
    Great grace to you on your journey!



    • emmaatlast
      Dec 07, 2018 @ 12:24:18

      Karen, I remember a year or so ago, you asked about a book I was reading at that time. I also remember being hesitant because i suspected that the joy I’d felt when reading it was specific to nature geeks, like me. Well, now I truly have a book to suggest.- I quoted it in my post. “If Women Rose Rooted” This book is so affirming of our similar stories and journeys. I highly recommend it



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