A tiny boat

In ancient times, we gave faces to our gods. Aphrodite, goddess of love; Ceres, goddess of the harvest; Ra, god of the sun. Gods to give sadness, gods to give joy, gods to give life and gods to take it away.

I wonder what I would expect their faces to look like. Would the goddess of love have a beautiful face that you couldn’t help but desire, or would she be plain and unassuming, the sort of person that you look past every day of your life but couldn’t imagine being without? Would the goddess of the harvest have hair as yellow as corn and feet that sprung flowers where she walked, or would she have rough hands and an apron dusted with flour above sensible work boots that trod the mud?

I don’t think that grief has a face.

If there is a god of grief, they are an ocean surrounding a tiny boat, laden heavy with all the most precious things in the world. The currents are strong and the skies are dark and the waves break over the sides of the boat, and all who sail in her are scared. The waters beat at the sides without ceasing, the joins creaking and threatening to give way at a moment’s notice.

If there is a god of grief then they have no face, for to look them in the face would be to know them and predict them and take the measure of them and grief is endless, unfathomably deep, and colder than you can imagine. To look on it is to feel as though it will last forever, and that all that is left in the world is bailing and rocking and sickness and cold.

Somewhere in that tiny boat, however, there is a memory. A thought, faint and warm, of land somewhere through the storm. A hope that the cold will not be forever.


There has been a lot of grief in my life lately. Someone who I loved dearly passed away after a long illness, and then the horror that was perpetrated in Orlando. I have a life to live and sometimes it feels like I cannot breathe with the anger and the hurt and the grief that threatens to overwhelm my tiny boat.

Tonight I was attending a vigil here in Brisbane for the victims of the Orlando shooting. Politicians and community leaders stood up and spoke passionately and eloquently on the horror that our community has experienced, and the love that buoys us up, and the hope that we must hold to, and on that moment a wave crashed over my tiny boat. I could not speak, I could not breathe, the grief was too great.

As I walked away, as I ran for safety, a place where I could be in control, the crowds parted little by little and I could see that the mourners stretched far further than I had thought. I was at the fore of hundreds of people who were all doing their best to hold their course. A flotilla of tiny boats, as it were.

And knowing that mine is not the only boat does not help me keep from foundering. The winds are still strong, and the sea is still rough.

But we will travel together, and for that I am grateful.

Posted in: Blog

Written by David

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