Mum had been calling me back home. Even though she kicked me out before time even began, she told me every night since that she missed me.
We are always at the beck and call of our mother’s whims. Her voice is always in our heads – approving of this or disapproving of that – no matter how far away from home we are. This is high magic. Hold a seashell to your ear, and hear the long-distance call of the Ocean from anywhere.
And so one night recently enough, drawn by her insistent siren song, I emerged from the forest and onto the beach. Looking up, I recognised every point of light in the sky as a distant sun, and the galaxies sparkled like fireworks in fierce vibrant rainbows in their orbits. Our world is made up of degrees of darkness and light on an infinite continuum, and I saw the entire spectrum of colours, sounds and shades in deep space.
I walked across the white desert toward Mother Ocean. Thunder roared ever closer from within her womb, a rumbling drama with no cut called. Her voice flew wildly around me, keening, and the fine sand shifted and stung, borne by her grief. Sifted by her sad breath, it settled into new patterns.
When I reached her skirt hem I stopped, then I bowed down and kissed her feet. Her waters broke violently beneath her dress and she baptised me in brine.
I stood up, clean and cleansed, on the now-sodden shore. On each side of me I noticed the bodies of beached jellyfish scattered like the casualties of some oceanic war. The fluctuating territory of the tideline is no-man’s land, marking Mum’s ever-changing boundaries between high claim and low retreat. Across the frontline, and as far as my eyes could see, the abundance of their corpses was evidence of who lost this battle.
I remembered back to a time when I was younger, when I had encountered the exact same carnage on another beach in a similar heightened state. Back then, I had waged a crusade of bleeding-hearted goodwill for the jellyfish; I had worked doggedly for hours up and down that stretch of coastline, gathering them up, armful by stinging armful, and gave them back into Mum’s watery womb for a second chance at life.
Looking upon this new but familiar scene, I wondered if this was a riddle. What are the chances that the same challenge should be put before me, again, in this parallel priestess state of mind? Standing amongst all the death and disembowelment, I meditated on the change of my understanding. Where I would have once attempted to return my sisters and brothers to the water where I had arrogantly assumed they belonged, I now began to think of them as lost causes.
Had Mum aborted and rejected them, kicking them out in an self-righteous assertion of parental control? Or had they run away to escape her oppressive weight and her deep mood swings? Either way, did she miss them? And would I poison her if I gave them back?
Jellyfish are much like us. They are small packets of seawater, with translucent membranes to keep their inner seas separate from the whole, but with tentacles to pull in nourishment from the exterior and to excrete waste into the outside. We too are soft sacks made of Ocean with skin to keep ourselves in and to keep others out. Our appendages are sensual tools used for gathering and for giving. We are land-lubbing seawater satellites; Mother Ocean sent us forth to colonise dry land. Our terrestrial mobility is a means for our aqueous Mother to walk around outside of herself and to experience a reality outside of her domain.
From the moment a mother gives birth, she must be prepared for a precious part of herself to walk around outside of her, growing and hurting. She must relinquish control.
When we do whatever our mother tells us we are still immature and dependent on her instructions. Yet when we don’t comply we are traitors, and we are made to feel the guilt of our freedom songs. Rebellion is the first stage of painful detachment on both sides.
Our mothers give us the gift of free will but then punish us for exercising our birth right. Why then do mothers give birth to sentient beings, knowing full well that we will eventually mature and become autonomous, growing up and away from them?
It has been said that we are killing Mother Ocean, but I laugh at this because nothing that is immortal can die. But we, her wayward strayward children who still rely on our Mum, we are shitting and pissing and bleeding in her, we are pillaging and polluting her, yet we are only hurting ourselves. We would have been better off if she kept us locked inside and thrown away the key. But nothing can stay in the Ocean if Mum doesn’t want it there: it will either sink and become part of the seabed; or it will be eaten by her organs and broken down in her bowels to assimilate into her vast system and nourish her cells; or it will float and be pushed onto terra firma by her constant motion. As were we.
Mum will be fine. She has known grief before. She has grieved each and every day of fathomless ages. Forever before and ever after our reign of terror, she always was and always will be there. She is our holy grail – a true perpetual motion machine, much more complex than the small things made by our clever-enough hands or dreamed up by our clever-enough minds. She has all the time in the world for us to right our wrongs, and no matter how many of us have to live and die, she will wait until we finally learn how to harvest her sorrow.
Saltwater cures everything, whether in the form of sweat, tears or the Ocean. This is sympathetic magic. We came from the Ocean and we need communion with her to be whole again. Belonging is where the heart is and I taste like home, embodied, when I cry or come or dance; she buoys me afloat even when I’m away from her. But I have never lived too far from my Mum. I miss her lullabies too much when I am away.
Every night I dream of the sea.
– Defender Of The Faith, 31st of December 2014, Minjungbal country