sometimes you break your own heart and sometimes the world breaks it for you and sometimes you come to a place in your life where it’s hard to tell the difference. maybe you’re at that place, too, living in this country where the government is trying to murder everyone you love. that’s not a new history, not here, not anywhere; but in this time, in any time, not everyone you love survives it.
when i went to the arctic i fell in love: thunk, like a stone dropping. i got off the plane in longyearbyen and walked outside the airport and that was it, and that was before i even saw a glacier. for me love is a thing my body knows first, a language outside of words. love for a place, love for a person, remaking the architecture of my blood. but love’s a landscape, not an exit. love has to live in the world we live in, too. the one thing i know for sure in this long and ruinous year is how badly i want to go back to a place that is far better off without me. that sounds like a metaphor. it isn’t.
the first glacier i came to in svalbard, wahlenbergbreen, is a surge glacier, surge a meltwater-fueled movement of intense violence, a glacier that’s vomiting itself into the sea. a self-destruction that exists only, appropriately enough, in english. we climbed up the moraines to look down into the wilderness of disordered ice, a vast city of teeth blue-white and cream-white and turquoise and chunks of ice bigger than houses hurled forward by the glacier’s force and the mud-bloodied edges where the glacier was tearing itself across the earth, a thing so immense and so beautiful that i did not even know how to see it, a thing that, in a different world, an un-warming world, i likely would never have seen at all. to feel the beginning of myself and the end of everything else in the same breath.
when i got off the plane in new york again three weeks later it was a hundred degrees. six time zones and seventy degrees fahrenheit of movement: surging. waiting in the interminable passport control line wending its way with humid, anguished slowness toward the immigration officers, carrying the little blue book that opens doors for me for no reason other than an accident of birth. i thought of all the other stories in that room, all the people around me for whom every door is closing, the door to safety, the door to a future, the door to their own children, the door to hope. what were you doing in norway the immigration officer said when i finally came to him and i said i'm sorry i'm going to throw up and he looked at me, white skin, blue passport, and waved me through, and i ran to the bathroom and puked my guts out, crying so hard i couldn’t see.
lately when i come to a place of formless grief i have been trying to give it a name. solastalgia. or, if not that, a specificity: i am sad about this thing, or that one. this ending, or that one. the failure of this or that particular dream. on good days i am able to remember that a time of crisis is a time of infinite potential. the old over-trodden path it’s time to let fade away in favor of new maps. the process of metamorphosis, writes chani nicholas, is not for the faint of heart. well, yeah. the process of metamorphosis, however, is not always a choice. you live for the fight, bon jovi writes, when it’s all that you’ve got.
last night i took the bus from my apartment to the beach. it was cold enough for a hat and scarf. the sky was still red-gold at the edges, the horizon flaring with the lights of passing tankers. i thought of what emma told me when i went into the water in the arctic: take all your clothes off, but leave your socks on. it’s disorienting to come back out when you can no longer feel your feet. jacob riis beach in october is not so lethal. it’s not so divine, either, but it’s closer.
i took off my clothes, socks too, and went in. and i remembered that no matter what happens the oceans will still be here, in ten years, in a thousand years, if the ice melts, if the world as we know it unravels, if all the borders laid down in fire and horror and war strangle whatever we have left. if it comes, in the end, to the end of us—the oceans will still be here, moving in and out with the arc of the circling moon.
put your hands in the water and you can almost feel it: that far country where your heart lives now, connected to your body by a universe of water. maybe you’ll get there again, maybe you won’t. the cold on your skin feels like home.
at the edge of the sky the wild moon rose, bloody and huge, until it climbed a little farther and was its ordinary self again. a cool distant light marking a silver path across the sea.