August 2 – The Mermaid – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

“A mermaid found a swimming lad, picked him for her own, pressed her body to his body, laughed; and plunging down, forgot in cruel happiness that even lovers drown.” William Butler Yeats

We want so badly to share our innermost experience with our loved ones, but often, like the mermaid,we forget that not everyone can go where we go. Indeed, we all share this mysterious  fact—that no one else can go into our depth completely. We must travel there alone. It is where we commune with God.

The lad can visit the mermaid’s depth, but can’t live there or he will drown. And the mermaid can visit the lad’s life on land, but can’t stay there or she will suffocate. We must, each of us, return to our innermost element in order to survive. Frequently, we judge each other for not coming along, even take such an inability as rejection, when in fact, if we are kept out of our native element too long, we too will suffocate or drown.

The living terrain of relationship actually exists in the overlap of our inmost natures. The mermaid and lad return to embrace where the deep and air meet. It is the mermaid’s responsibility of love to bring her treasures to the surface where they can be shared, and the lad’s obligation to rinse his treasures in their common surf. In this way, every authentic relationship becomes a home where we return from our solitary communions with God.

Never was this clearer to me than when wheeling Anne, my partner of twenty years, to the operating room where she would have surgery for cancer. I went as far as I could and watched her grow smaller through the glass doors. I realized then, that whether it be our quarrel with God or with dead parents or with the limitations of our humanity, each of us must go beyond the glass doors of our experience alone. And the work of compassion is to guide our dear ones as far as we can and to be there when they return. But no one can go beyond the glass doors for us or with us.

On land or at sea, entangled in community or independent in isolation, we all share this essential aloneness. And in the journey between the depths and heights that nourish our souls and the touch of others that keeps us sane, we are humbled into the miracle of love.

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