One of our staccato message strings has been about we react emotionally to illness. After weeks of tests and surgery, all bravely faced with amazing spirit and optimism, she told me that she – who hardly ever cries – had finally wept over this sudden shock event in her life.
A good thing too, I said…. “tears very necessary for healing’.
I also told her how, a day or two after an operation some years ago, I experienced something very strange. Suddenly one morning, in my hospital bed, I let loose a string of harsh barking noises that ripped out of from some deep place inside me. The other three women in the ward gaped at me as I emitted a cascade of wild, mournful, yelping sobs. I had no control. It was as if they just had to break out of me whether I liked it or not.
Back came her reply. “I remember when my brother died, I went outside and keened like an indigenous person...weird.”
It made me think how neither of us had acted weirdly at all. Such noises are utterly right. It’s just that in the western world so many of our old sounds have been suppressed. We like to think we are disciplined now, trained to be objective, expected to be brave. The stiff-upper-lip idea may have made us stoic but has also put a layer of calloused skin over our vulnerability. And humans who lack vulnerability are somehow robbed of a different kind of strength.
Grownups rarely wail, though letting go and doing it can make us feel so much better. Just as the body bleeds when it’s wounded, it seems the soul has a need to bleed in the form of a damn good howl.
When we say ‘indigenous’ now we tend to think of tribal people still living close to Nature.
And yet we are all indigenous to this planet.
It’s only a very few generations since all our ancestors lived in accordance with the seasons. Back then the world was dark at night except for the flicker of candles and fireplaces – and the cold light of moon and stars. The only way to tell the time in daylight was by eyeing the sun’s position in the sky. People were part of the natural world, not aloof from it.
Before electricity, radio, television, loudspeakers and electronics it was a much quieter planet. Who knows what sounds rose then from an average village. We can only guess. The voices of birds and animals. Children playing. Grownups laughing, arguing, raving, whooping and shouting. The sounds of pre-industrial tools. People singing and whistling. And, in times of heartache, the painful but good, gut-wrenching sounds of grief and catharsis.
Bring on the siren-call of the soul, I say…