Tuesday, April 7, 2009
in the belly of the whale
Yesterday, I took my emotionally fragile self to the acupuncturist. I've been better since my pity-party on Saturday morning; the feelings of doom have subsided, for the most part, but I still find myself swinging wildly between certainty that it worked, and certainty that it didn't. "Breasts are sore again! It worked!" quickly becomes, "oh, crap, period is coming. Can feel it. DOOM! DOOM!" which morphs into, "Ooh! No period! Surely it worked!" which goes back to, "but wouldn't I have implantation spotting? Which I have not had, so...DOOM! DOOM!"
I told all of this to the acupuncturist, who smiled in an understanding fashion and said, "everything you're going through is normal. This is just a big black hole that you're in. It's the hardest part, by far. It's just a huge, gaping black hole of time." And then she said other reassuring things about how breast tenderness is not necessary, and how not spotting is a good thing, and how the progesterone completely fucks up your emotions (she did not use that term, but trust me: it's the truth).
And then I laid on the table, and she felt my pulse and said it feels nice and 'slippery,' which is a pregnancy symptom - but could also be the progesterone. And she put in the needles, and left the room, and I laid there and thought about the black hole. Which reminded me of a poem I had read months ago, having landed in my inbox through the good graces of The Writer's Almanac on NPR. I couldn't remember the whole poem. What I could hear, faintly, in the back of mind, was this line:
be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope, where you can rest and wait.
The poem comes from the story of Jonah, one of my very favorite bible stories. I love Jonah for a million reasons. For one, it's the perfect example of how the bible can tell you a truth story that does not have to be a true story. Was there a historical guy named Jonah who fled from God's call and got swallowed by a whale? Who cares? That's not the point. Can this story tell me something true about myself, and about the world, and about God? Well, then. That's the point.
The bible doesn't actually say it was a whale that swallowed Jonah: it was a "great fish," but since I'm not sure that the author of Jonah was familiar with the whole fish/whale/mammal distinction, we'll not bother with that part. For now, in this week of my life, the image of a whale works perfectly. Jonah offered to jump off the boat to save the lives of his fellow sailors. He landed in the ocean, where he surely expected to die, there being a terrible and dangerous storm at the time. He was swallowed by a whale, which always sounds like a punishment, and if nothing else, a horrible fate to endure for three days. It can't have been nice in there. Stinky, slimy, no windows, no control - probably just waiting for death in a different form. Death by digestion instead of drowning.
It turned out, however, that what Jonah thought would kill him was the instrument of his salvation. The whale carries him safely through the waters and spits him out onto the other side (technically, it says that the whale "vomited" him onto the shore, which reminds you that the whole experience was probably not great for the whale either). He finds himself right where he was supposed to have gone in the first place. He thought the black hole would kill him. But it saved him instead.
Which brings us to the poem:
Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale
by Dan Albergotti
Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each
way for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports.
Review each of your life's ten million choices. Endure
moments of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those
before you. Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for
the sound of gears and moving water. Listen for the
sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea,
your toes pointing again and again down, down into the black
This week is a horrible black hole. Sometimes the only things I can do to keep my sanity are all those mundane tasks: organize my calendar, work on my reports, review each of my life's ten million choices.
And hope against hope that this particular black hole is, in fact, carrying me safely to the other side. For now, I will try to remember to rest and wait. Tread water. Keep busy. Wait out the storm.