This Body, This Ground


Memories flood in: Memories. Far distant or distant near. Time gets lumped into strange piles that are difficult to sift through.

My brain is full of junk drawers. No library catalogues here. In the span of ten minutes I am remembering being 5, being 37, being 21, then 15, and oh right, 29 where depression, wisdom, instinct, and the impact of un-self-awareness collide. How did I survive 29, or 31, or 36?

Oh, those tender stories, paper-thin, shatter-prone. I wrap secrecy like delicate lace around some of them, fold down the corners, and tuck them in for a longer rest. They must age enough for dust mites before the bookworms have their feast. Someday. Someday, when it’s more regale than rehearsal to my heart, I’ll organize these scattered bits of past.

I am 40 years young, but old enough to get lost in hours of reverie over a lifetime of events. Old enough to describe to you, with twinges of both hope and regret, the big picture, as a backdrop for our tidily framed and attentively curated snapshots.

I have built bridges, burned bridges, grown empathy from the ashes, ever haunted by the ghosts of too-late and unrequited and should-never-have-said. I am softer but the ground is harder. Is it because I keep planting the same dreams over and over every year when I’ve needed to grow something new?

I’ve tried repeatedly to plumb the depths of what drives me to act and to feel, searching for the momentum that powers dreams, year to year, but it’s a long read with no resolution. I am not giving up on dreams. I am directing my attention to healing the ground in which they are planted. This takes more time than expected, as you can imagine.

Perhaps that’s what the memories have been trying to tell me. They visit me every day like I’m the one locked away. They do not forget me though I daily forget myself, whether actively or passively, resenting my need to be embodied- in THIS body. They make me visible when I feel like I’m disappearing, fading into a sadness of if-onlys and could-have-been-betters.

I’ve been in pain far longer than it was named. Hushed into silence by credentialed disbelief or well-intended impatience, or devastatingly, internalized shame, because nearly every message of making a life worth having is about trying harder or being smarter, rather than cultivating and patiently tending.

Let’s have no more of that shame now; let’s dropkick it into the gutter. Let’s balance the willpower to achieve with a gentle preservation of bodily self-care.

The porcelain teacup, flowers on the windowsill, birdsong and windchimes, ice cream and coffee dates, deserve equal attention right alongside the piece you hope to publish, the event you want to plan, that endless commute, the people whose needs you must meet, the weeds you must pull, the poem waiting to take its first breath.

My memories hand me this gentle, yet urgent piece of advice that I pray I’ll remain hopeful enough to heed:

Don’t believe anyone who implicitly exalts sacrifice and shows contempt for comfort- those who love you and not just the idea of you will care about your physical needs, too.

Don’t be in the business of pouring yourself out without taking time to refuel.

Voice your ambitions. Voice your needs. Voice, too, your apologies.

Celebrate everything. The blue ribbons and the purple ribbons. Every milestone, young and old alike. It’s never too trivial to matter in the only time we have here and now.

Laugh at your own jokes, frequently. Laugh at your best friend’s dad jokes, too.

Tend the ground you’ve found depleted- more love, more rest, more feeling, more feasting. Play the soundtrack your heart needs for the long drive home. Play your memories back to “beloved.”

Jamie Bagley