In Japan, the word akēru means “to pierce, to end, to begin” – the aftermath of something broken making room for something new to blossom like so many cherry trees. And it is this I am embracing now – filling the space created by what is gone, with new ways of being, new rituals, new friends.
And I want you to know that it is astonishing. Initially, of course, it is terrifying: the fear so all encompassing it feels like the deepest, most cavernous of discombobulating whirligigs destined to fling you into a barren desert never to be discovered again. Then for a while there is a kind of shocked nothing. A sense of disbelief, despair and pain so fierce you frankly go about making a downright, undignified show of yourself, begging for life to give up the cartwheels and stand you upright again.
But then just like that you notice how changed you are. Already. How things that two months ago you simply couldn’t imagine being true, simply already are. You are different. Your mind is quieter. The fog lifted. You have managed things that seemed impossible. Believe things now that struck you as utterly outlandish then. Have come to terms with what is and understand the whys of it now that a clear explanation has been provided by the medical profession, by the books you have swallowed in an effort to understand and achieve the closure that has not been granted, for yourself. You have not moved on as such, but already you are expanding your mind to fill the space fear is ready to vacate. Imagining, dreaming, accepting and welcoming tomorrows you cannot yet accurately predict.
One morning, just before the crack of dawn, when you have given up on sleep, but it is too early to yet get up, you find yourself sitting upright in bed, reading, with a cup of rosehip tea at your side and your shadow, Meep, the silliest cat in the land, trying desperately to distract you from the book you are devouring by bashing it into your face and it is so comical and so futile to carry on trying, you laugh out loud all by yourself and give up serious pursuit in favour of just being. Tickling his chin and feeling like all is ok, all, you have in that moment is enough, because if you are destined to become a crazy cat lady then you might as well embrace it.
The next evening you are lying on the bed, in a fairy-lit room, kicking your legs about behind you, chatting up a storm on the phone, and feeling so alive, so heard, when there is a knock on the door and your son and his friend come into the room, guitar and all, and serenade you with the songs they have written together. It is a little bit of wonderful and you feel a sense of joy, your head, so used to the terrible mundane, can barely make sense of and you spook these happy boys by having a little weep for all their exciting tomorrows. And they ask if it is terrible and you tell them it is the very opposite of that and offset your weepy embarrassment by insisting they make themselves useful by helping you to move the furniture round, before the front door opens and another of their friends bounds up the stairs to help lug giant wardrobes from one corner of the room to the other, your bedroom suddenly filled with the hilarious banter of boys on the verge of being lovely, funny, promising men.
And then there is a moment you will remember for always, not because it would be remarkable to anyone else, but because it is the best marker yet of how far you have come in such a short time. You are on the treadmill, walking up a gentle incline and slowly nudging the dial faster and faster. Your little legs marching along, and your head daring you to do better, to do more. And just like that you are running. You are actually running! And you can breathe and you haven’t died and it feels like you could just run right out of your body and keep on running for always, because nothing you can remember in the longest time has felt so exhilarating and all at once you understand how exercise can become addictive and you stand grinning in the conservatory, so proud of yourself, you rather wish there had been an audience to give you a round of applause.
This then is what akēru means to you.
It is glimpses of a life you once took for granted taking root again in your soul. It is running, and laughing and having conversations that fill you up and make you smile. Using every room in the house instead of feeling so confined to one corner of the sofa. It is sitting on a bench at the nature reserve last night, watching the ducks with an old friend, still so funny, still too eager to skit your socks off and behave in mock outrage when you return the favour. A picnic between you of Morecombe Bay brown shrimp and ice cold cans of gin and tonic as you catch up on years lost and challenge each other to name each passing duck. #duckymcduckface. It is letting yourself laugh again. Doing the Work. Trying to make friends with the house again. And it is shopping for new trainers (because you are a runner now!) and pretty, new bras because it seems you are losing weight from the top down: your double chin gone and your chest rapidly flattening. It is all this already and will be so much more eventually. Won’t it?
How changed you are. But is it really change if it is merely a return to yourself? Is it change if it is merely the unravelling of the soul-piercing ties that have bound you to what you thought you wanted most in the world? Is it really change if in these moments you remember who you are and why she still matters, when what you wanted most in the world is gone?
Akēru is bewildering and frightening and so very life-affirming. It is often imperceptible. It is difficult. It feels disloyal, as if living again is abandonment, or a declaration of sorts, even when the choice to endure it wasn’t yours. And heaven knows, it is tinged in saudade, washing over you when you least expect it. But it is real, the space exists and slowly but surely your heart expands to fill it. Per ardua ad astra…