When a whale dies, its body falls to the ocean floor. When this happens in shallow water, the normal scavengers recycle the body back into the earth and air in a matter of days or weeks.
However, when the ocean’s floor is deeper than 6,600 ft, the carcass falls below the reach of the traditional scavengers. And something miraculous happens: The whale’s fallen body becomes the home of a unique, diverse ecosystem that sustains life for 50 years or more. This is called a whale fall.
Whale falls were first discovered in the 1980s when robotic submersibles were able to explore deeper areas of the ocean floor. But I only heard about it last week when I attended a press preview of the Aquarium of the Pacific‘s new Ocean Exploration: Wonders of the Deep exhibit. The concept captured my imagination and kept floating around in my mind until the other day when I realized it was a metaphor for life.
I’ve written about this before: You can find silver linings in almost all less-than-perfect situations. The whale fall is just a physical manifestation of the fact that you can find blessings in sorrow. Sometimes they are obvious and you see them right away. Sometimes it can take you years to see the blessings. But they are there none-the-less.
For example, in 1997 I had a miscarriage. It was the loneliest day of my life. My new husband had wanted me to get an abortion, which I refused. That’s why we got married … his idea, not mine. A day or two after coming home from our honeymoon, I went to the doctor for a regular pregnancy check up. She couldn’t find a heartbeat, so I went immediately to have a sonogram. Sure enough, although I was at the 12-week mark, the fetus measured at 8 weeks and was lifeless. Within a week, my miscarriage started.
I drove to the hospital alone. I cried most of the day and the nurse was rather mean to me. Finally, when it was time for me to go home, they insisted I couldn’t drive. So, begrudgingly, my husband picked me up with a friend and we went to have dinner at Jerry’s Famous Deli … I’m a big fan of their matzo ball soup.
That day was full of sorrow … but there were blessings as well. As things turned out, my husband would not have made a good father and a baby’s presence would have made life much more difficult than it was already. I firmly believe that my child’s purpose was to get me married so I could have the experiences I needed to have to be the person I am today. It was not my child’s purpose to be my child.
Of course, it took me close to 10 years to find the blessings in that event. But I still found them.
Another example: Earlier this month my little sister died, suddenly. It was shocking and sorrowful and filled with hidden blessings. As I’ve processed my loss over the past few weeks I’ve come to realize something very powerful. Despite the distance between us … Toni lived a life I would never have chosen and I didn’t always agree with … I loved her very much. I loved her more than I was consciously aware of. Without my realizing it, Toni had become an integral part of my self-identification. She was a fundamental part of my personal story. I was part of a set that now is broken.
I am who I am, in part, because Toni was who she was. Her presence in my life and the challenges that brought, helped forge me into the strong, independent and compassionate person I’ve grown up to be. I am deeply thankful for her presence in my life and looking back I wouldn’t give her up for all the tea in China.
I am sad because she is gone, but because she is gone I can move on to build a different story about who I am. Possibly a better story. Definitely a story more suited to whatever my future is to hold.
There are blessings in sorrow. You can find them if you are aware, conscious and open to finding them. You must also be courageous and strong so that you can go through the sorrow to find the rainbow on the other side. Like a whale fall, the challenges and sorrows of our life bring lessons and blessings that can impact our lives and sustain learning and growth for years to come.
If you are willing to see them.