There is an old Celtic story about a man who finds a Selkie naked on the seashore. Selkies are sea folk, capable of changing from seal to human by shedding their skin. The man, who saw the Selkie naked, steals her seal skin while she is bathing and compels her to become his wife. When she becomes his wife, she will spend her time in captivity longing for the sea–her true home–and will often be seen gazing longingly at the ocean.
She may bear several children by her human husband, but once she rediscovers her skin, she will immediately return to the sea and abandon the children she loved.
In another version of the story, it is said that she already had a first husband of her own kind. In yet another version of the story, it is said the selkie revisits her family on land once a year. And in the final version, it is said the selkie wife was never seen in human form again. The children, however, would witness a large seal approach them that would ‘greet’ them with a great sense of sadness.
Which story do you believe?
Myths are myths not because they are untrue, but because they are stories. They reflect and embody the human experience and our need to tell stories to make sense of the missing puzzle pieces of our lives.
I have a memory of a story that was told to me when I was quite young. It was about my grandfather. It was about his longing to know who his mother was. My great-grandmother, Kamala, passed away when he was only three years old. He may not have consciously remembered her; but a mother’s bond with her child is an experience that every child remembers, no matter how vaguely.
My many years as an educator has taught me that a Mother’s Love is a complicated matter. It is not about the Hallmark moments and nor is it about unconditional love. It is much deeper and more primal than that. In the Eastern worldview, it is believed that we choose the circumstances of our birth–including our parents, our country and even our creed. In the Western worldview, it is believed that we don’t get to choose our parents and that’s that.
But who knows what transpires between life and death? And who knows why some souls depart this world leaving two young children behind for a step-mother to raise?
The tale of the Selkie reminds us that perhaps there was once a place called home–and that’s the only place where we will ever belong.
I have images in my mind that look like the photos of these dreams and this life I once led. I cannot free my heart from them. As the seasons pass, I’ll request for them. I do not have the moments, but I will always have the memories.