Under the Grave of Rivers

A question too painful to pluck, so I let it string precariously under the perfect rowing of a canoe, as the lingering candle dances its waves through the Venetian blinds.

Winter nights sure are lonely, intrusive in their questions. I cannot help but wonder, under the graves of these rivers:

Who are you?

Western psychology’s answer is “gratitude journals,” which somehow are meant to help your mind shift and overcome that which anchors you in suffering.

Sure enough, she tells me:

Be kind to yourself.
Be gentle on yourself.

Write down three things
each day that
you are grateful for.

I feel a surge of resistance. My pain gnaws at its shallow grave, ready to bite back:

But how can I learn to lake,
when all I have known is to storm?

Her words feel too close to parts of my culture that I have spent years running away from; a Middle Eastern culture that tells me to grit my teeth and be grateful for my physical suffering:

Be grateful.
Be grateful.
Be grateful.
Do not complain.
Accept your fate.

Be grateful,
for all this comes from God,
and He has willed it so.

Be grateful.
Be grateful.
Be grateful.

A Middle Eastern culture that has no trouble claiming my success, but quickly disowns me for any perceived failure. A Middle Eastern culture that tells me to remain quiet, to hide it all away in shame, because surely, I have caused this.

Do not speak up.
Do not speak up.
Do not speak up.

Do not speak up, for
this will bring her family shame.

Do not speak up, for
this happened because
she doesn’t live at home
she travels at night alone
she left the window ajar
she laughs too loud
she smiles too much
she is too out there

Her way
is not our way…
How do her parents let her?
Why didn’t her parents stop her?
What will others think?
Do not speak up.
Do not speak up.
Do not speak up.

A Middle Eastern culture, like so many others, that finds it difficult to show kindness to those who suffer. So many barriers and taboos make it difficult to broach the subject of mental health.

I have learnt long ago to take only that which feeds me, and so tell her how I feel. We settle instead on three things that I have enjoyed today:

Being licked through cold rusty wire by two sleepy chocolate labradors.
Helping an old lady with a flip phone find her way to the station.
Winter, and its crisp ways of healing.

I thank her, and leave the centre with its cream paint, classically high ceilings, walnut floorboards and grey frames.

Later that night, I write down the thoughts that linger in my head, choosing to close with the only words that feel true:

Do not lose what you have
to what you have lost
—Lucy Hone.