We are made of water

Touched by Vespersparrow’s reflection on lacrimae rerum (the tears at the heart of things), the posting itself a wondrous lachrymal urn, I thought of a passage from Island where a few more are shed.

Soon afterwards Mrs Pearson announced that there would be no more deaths from diphtheria — and there were not. In the ward each day, heads were newly raised from pillows and gaunt bodies separated themselves from mattresses. They sat up and stepped away from the beds and went about like humans again, although coughs and retchings still smudged the atmosphere of calm that was like the aftermath of a storm, its survivors dazed and wondering if the flotsam strewn about them held any residual meaning.

Sorrow again lay balled and heavy at the base of Liesel’s chest. In the ward she joined in the efforts to raise the morale of the convalescents. There was time at last to attend to matters of the body that affected more than mere survival. She cut knots and combed lice from children’s heads, and washed and re-shaped hair that had been shorn, or matted by weeks of neglect. She trimmed and filed toenails and fingernails, and massaged borax and glycerine into sheet-roughened elbows, knees and hips. She filled bathtubs behind screens and knelt to wash backs and feet. Here tightened faces relaxed, and sometimes grew wet as the press of warm water on thirsting skin drew, by strange osmosis, answering tears. There was time to find clothing that fit and sometimes even belonged to its wearers, to help those who wished it to shave, or to take a pipe or a slice of sun at the sheltered end of the verandah. Later there would be shaky walks in the bright air, across the hilltop and down to the graveyard where grasses, leaves and paper flowers were pinned to wooden plaques, pathetic gifts pitched at the caverns of loss.

2 responses to “We are made of water”

  1. Thank you, Melissa. I think you know the road of anguish far more intimately than I — if in pain, I’ll know I can trust that tug on the wrist . . . x P

  2. Oh, Pen, that’s heartbreaking and sublime writing. Thank you so much for posting it. It moved me to tears–you see, they’re everywhere! I’m trying to write about suffering and compassion, and how walking beside someone in pain is to help heal it; that truly feeling our own anguish ties a celestial knot around our wrists that’s already tied to another in the human family. When the heart breaks, the heart opens. xo