Tess and the Lake

I know a man whose name is Nigel. He is married to a woman called Tess.

Now Nigel and Tess live in a place just East of Doncaster in Melbourne. Most of you know Nigel and Tess, this is because they are similar to so many likeable people. Most of you get on well with them, especially Tess; she is such a likeable person. You must have met Tess up the road. She loves kids. She would always ask you in, kids as well; or even the dog if you had yours with you. She loves dogs.

But there was something that Tess would worry about sometimes. She was a good mother. She was a good wife. But something vexed her, particularly as she watched her children growing up. At that time it was noticeable that she started inviting friends in less than she had previously. She wasn’t so easy going with people anymore either. What worried her most was that she couldn’t figure out what the problem was.

Neither could Nigel. As you recall, Nigel is an easy going person. He’s one of these fellahs who’s got his head stuck under the bonnet of his car a lot of the time. But he has always been there for Tess, and the kids could always join in with what he was doing. He loves Tess, but he wasn’t a complicated sort of a guy. At least, not enough to figure out what was ailing Tess.

Neither did the doctor – figure out what was ailing Tess. He did give her things. He did try his best. He examined her and did the things doctors do. They take lumps of you out, look at them, and say, ‘Well, no, there’s nothing really wrong with you Tess! I’m sorry. Sorry I can’t be a bit more helpful.’ And that was about it, with the doctor.

Tess started going for walks alone. That was so unlike her. That was not the Tess that everyone had known. It just wasn’t her. To tell the truth she used to go to the lake that was in the reserve not far from where Nigel and she lived in Doncaster East. In fact she often thought of throwing herself in and sinking to the bottom.

She didn’t. And I think what saved her was that she loved her children. If you imagine Tess standing by the lake without the children or Nigel, well, she would have been in the lake, wouldn’t she? And she would have been at the bottom without even knowing what was bothering her.

There are quite a few people at the bottom of that lake – the lake of despair I mean – because they didn’t have a Nigel or children in their life.

The pity is that we don’t really know why they threw themselves in. But happily Tess didn’t. Even so it was difficult for Tess to go back to her home and family. But she did go to the house, to her children, to Nigel, and to what was eating away at her good feelings. She realised when she got home that she had either got to find out what was eating her inside, or she would be at the bottom of the lake where some of her neighbours were. They were down there now, and so might she be if she couldn’t deal with the shadow that was darkening her life.

Tess started asking herself difficult questions about what she felt. She came to some quite difficult answers as a result. One of them was that there is a disease about in our times. It isn’t a disease like small pox, or tuberculosis, that one can easily give a name to and shows signs in or on the body. So it has been creeping around getting into people’s homes and lives, infecting them and urging them into the lake. And people haven’t recognised it or seen it coming. So it has got a lot of people to the bottom of the lake.

Tess felt that the root of it all was that none of us any longer live close enough together, and we don’t hear the wind or the birds any more, or know what they are saying even if we do hear them. This leaves great open spaces in our soul. They get filled with shadows.

If I were an old Aboriginal storyteller I would end this story about Tess’s life by saying – And into that great open hole in Tess’s soul crept the shadows of the dead. Not those dead who the wind lifts up to the sun and stars. No, it was the shadows that collect at the dark bends of the creek, where the trees hang over the river and the flotsam collects in the dismal light. Spirits who never got any love get washed into that shadowy place and wait for people to pass by who have lost their own inner light, and fasten on them, eating their hope and joy away out of their desperate hunger.

These shadows of the loveless dead wait for people with holes in their soul and make their life inside the living, eating away at their heart.

Of course there is a cure for that. That person with the dark spirits of the unhappy dead in them is brought out in front of the whole tribe and stands in the middle of us all. The one whose soul is sick then tells us how dark they are inside. We all understand that because we have all been dark inside occasionally. So we would all go to the person and touch them. Some of us would bring the person a few nuts, or some special thing to eat. We would visit that person and say ‘We don’t want those dark spirits eating away at your soul’. Please come and look at our new baby, or see the spear I am fashioning.

But here we are in our own times, where we all live so far apart from each other, and so what would you do if you were Tess? How would you meet the darkness inside? I asked a few people, and here’s what they said.

‘I would go and get pissed.’

‘I would sit out on the porch and have a smoke in the evening and let it all wash over me.’

‘There are plenty of groups about now that can help you work through that sort of problem. I would find some help’

‘I know what I’d do. I’d go and kick my old man in the balls for not paying me enough attention, but having his head stuck under the friggin bonnet of his car.’

‘I would go to church and light a candle to Our Lady and ask her help.’

‘P’rhaps leaving home would do it for me. Not having the worry of the house and kids and my old man moaning at me all the time.

‘I would get the doctor to give me something that worked. They’ve got stuff now that will deal with depression. If I couldn’t get it from one I’d try another.’

For myself, I would get hold of that darkness inside me and pull it around so hard to give it the sort of shit it’s been giving me. Then, as I drag it out of the shadows, I’d make it stand naked in front of me till I could see for myself what a pitiful thing it is. Till I could see right into the misery causing it to exist in me, and where its roots are. Then I would dig up its roots and put it on the compost heap of my heart and let it rot down into something life giving and useful. The light that gave it life in the first place would then shine out of it.


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