I am curled up in the fetal position. Clad only in swim trunks and a t-shirt, I lie in the bottom of a wooden ship, sailing in the open waters offshore of Somalia and Kenya. The night is deeply and painfully black. The ship is fifty feet long at most. As I lie in the shallowly-keeled bottom, I feel the rough thick mango wood of which it is comprised, against my skin. I am floating in a foot of briny water that laps against my skin and drenches my clothes. It is so much like a dream. The winds are strong and the ship heaves upon each ten foot wave, before crashing down into the troughs. With each smash of the ship’s bottom against the phosphorescent salty wave troughs, I consider vomiting yet again.
Inside my body, traveling in my bloodstream, are millions of malarial parasites. They conspire to make me wretch that which is not there. For the last two days, I have drank only a little and eaten nothing. This is the work of the parasites. To dehydrate and to emaciate and to catastrophically consume. “Inside of me,” I think. “I am being eaten alive from the inside.” I am numb from the pain, I have constructed a fragile emotional shield around myself that will allow me to make the three hour emergency night voyage to the nearest island where the relief of a strong antimalarial injection hopefully awaits. I harbor fleeting glimpses of hope. The hope and the parasites do battle inside my life force. And for the first time in my life, I do not believe that I will see the sun rise tomorrow morning. I am so fragile.
I sit across from a young man. He looks down at the floor. He looks towards me, then up towards the ceiling. I see that there are tears forming at the corners of his eyes. They well up and I wait for them to reach that critical salty mass that will allow them the relief of falling down his cheeks. Then the tears begin to fall slowly, first one cheek and then the other, these salty messengers from his heart now rest on his chin. They fall to the floor. And with the drops of sorrow falling to the floor, he looks at me and says, ”I feel like I am being eaten up on the inside. And, I don’t know how much more pain I can take. My Father just died and I miss him so much.”
I look again at the young man. He looks so fragile. It is my job to put him on his own path, to slowly and resolutely help him to heal from the loss of his Father. I wish I knew how long it might take him to grieve, and reconstruct, and be strong again. But right now I do not have any of those answers. I travel through that painful pause which all therapists go through, where I search for what I might say. It feels like an hour, but it is probably only fifteen seconds. I slowly open my mouth without really knowing what might come out, I tell him, “When you feel like you are dying inside and you don’t know how you can take anymore pain, there will always be a small ember of hope, sequestered in your heart. Blow on it, and guard it, and one day you will wake up and see the sun of the morning and wonder how you healed and made the voyage through to the other side.”
Jeffrey Post-Holmberg is a contributing writer to the Two Rivers Counseling “River Notes Blog”. To be honest, he is the only contributor so far. When he is not helping others in his private practice, he is building a 2’ by 4’ wooden box with his wife and son, that will be the new home for 10 day-old chicks.