If you were a prehistoric Aleut and your wife or husband died, your people braced your joints for grief. That is, they lashed hide bindings around your knees, ankles, elbows, shoulders, and hips. You could still move, barely, as if swaddled. Otherwise, the Aleuts said, in your grief you would go to pieces just as the skeleton would go to pieces. You would fall apart.
- Annie Dillard, The Maytrees

Prehistoric Aleuts we are not. Some days, however, we might be better off if we followed the old ways, the very old ways. But no, we have surpassed those primitive responses to each day's trouble. Even the concept of your people is archaic.

He grieves for a father who died back in the spring. Who is there to talk to now, ask the tough questions of?

She grieves for the life she relentlessly tried to create, but she could not say to the wind be still and it be still. It huffed and puffed and blew her house down.

The man grieves for the lowest common denominator attitude that pervades his workplace. He wants to create things of beauty, but it's the beast that sells.

The woman grieves against the violence done to her as a child. She asked for bread, but her father gave her a stone, repeatedly over the years. Her soul is hard as rock.

He grieves for the way folks have let him down. He's assured nothing will change. He prays My hope is fixed on you alone, O Lord. But if so, then what's the use of other people?

She grieves at the body, once nimble and quick, which no longer responds to her brain's commands. She has grown old and they lead her where she does not want to go; never where she wants to go.

Where are the prehistoric Aleuts when we need them? Where are the people to lash hide to our elbows and hips? We are walking bags of bones, such is our grief. We have fallen apart, like skeletons, not once but time and time again. We became men and put away the childish concept of binding our joints for grief. Our independent selves resist swaddling; after all, we're not babies or Aleuts are we? No, we can still move. Barely. We'll not be a hide-bound people. We prefer the bones.


  1. John, I actually sobbed while reading this. So, so great and so well written. I've had a year where I could have used some binding. Some of it is choosing to be bones and some of it is being left for bones.

  2. I don't even know what to say except we've become so independent that it's hard not only to want to be bound, but to bind others we love. That's a dirty shame.

    p.s. luuuurrved it.

  3. As usual, your timing is impeccable. You offered the cup and I drank, deeply. You are a blessing.

  4. well, I've read this three times now...soaking it in a little deeper each time. If I would've known more about this concept I think I would've cried out and begged to be bound during some moments of my life...goodness, it makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Oh, to be held together by swaddle and hide so that we're free to fall apart in our grief, yet still be held tight...I scarce can imagine it!

    I think this is also a challenge to all of us to be prehistoric and help "our people"....