Every year it comes again, this subtle sense of loss — a missing piano note. I’ve erased and rewritten our story so many times over that the memory now is ragged and blurred. Too much clings to the fabric. There’s no space to start afresh.
Sharp edged criticism and disappointments have mellowed, tumbled over and over in an ocean of days and tears and never minds. What was once harsh and bitter turns soft and hazy. Perhaps one day even these will disappear, all the corners worn away until nothing remains.
I wonder if she ever heard me cry, holding jagged shards to my heart instead of comfort.
I cannot bear to wait for an echo that remains silent, so I do not sing the missing note. It sits inside my chest, bound and shackled.
Each early summer season it tries to escape. My throat is barricaded and I will not.
The past is veiled for my protection, bubble-wrapped in half-truths and semi-plausible explanations. We do our best and it is not enough. One always wants more than the other can give.
A never ending game played out across generations. Rules are unclear and the dice are loaded.
One day, my daughter too will cast the wishes I unknowingly broke into her private sea, hoping fragments will wash ashore smooth enough to hold.
By knowing the large you know the small; and from the shallow you reach the deep.
Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings
You think me crazy, driven mad by long solitude, but you are wrong. I have braved storms, rain, and blistering sun. Birds call and wheel in the desolate grey skies of winter, and soar serenely in the blue of summer. Lately, the ring whispers to me, day and night.
Few would live the life of a lighthouse keeper, but I have been more than content to polish the lens, oil the gears, and light the lamp. When storms batter the headland I am unafraid, for this is when I serve my purpose. There could be none nobler than saving lives.
Now, my time is done and you are here to take my place as keeper of the light. I watch the ocean swell and fall back as it has done for ever. The sun moves across the sky and the stars light the night, and on the cycle goes. What is one life, measured against the sweep and grandeur of nature? Everything and nothing.
Once, a long time ago, I took off my shoes and ventured to the shoreline. Light breeze, warm sun, a perfect day. I thought to paddle in the calm waters. One step, another, and the water gripped my ankles, far colder than expected, far stronger than I could bear.
I screamed and ran. That night a silver fish admonished me in dreams. Open your heart. Close your eyes. Release knowledge and grasp truth. I woke and did not know where I was.
Near the beach, a patch of calm water grows in the sea. This is not usual, and you should stay away. The ring itches on my finger but remains bright, even after all this time. I think it washed up on the shore, but I’m not certain any more.
I cannot remove it.
Each night, silvery creatures drift in and out of my dreams. You know, the dolphin says. The endless sea, the tiniest rock pool, the tear in your eye are all the same. You know, the hermit crab says. This house of refuge is only lent, not given. A mermaid flutters cold slender fingers against my cheek, showing me four rings, then a swish of the tail and she is gone, leaving only her voice. Let go.
Humour me. It has been so long since I spoke with another soul.
I have seen great weather systems march across this wide horizon, and plucked shivering half-drowned men from angry seas. I always saw it coming, but I have run from my own storm. So many lives saved, so many more given. Who decides what is a fair exchange between land and sea?
Dreaming and waking are one to me now, full of whispered memories. The sea picked me, and gifted me this ring and a life that should not have been mine. I stand and let the sea caress my skin. When the sun pauses in the solstice sky, when time hangs in the balance, that will be my moment.
I see my slow walk into the calm shallows, the riptide that will pull me under, deeper, back to the start and the end of life, where a silver ring was given and now is forfeit.
The ocean and the raindrop are the same, and shallow waters will lead me to the deep questions. Keep my secret, but do not mourn. My life is a price worth paying to know the answer.