21 September 2016

Super Heavy

Hurtling down the highway on my morning rounds and I see another one up ahead. The shape is familiar, a small yellow triangle emblazoned on the corrugated side of a shipping container. The words are well-known to me now. "SUPER HEAVY", it says, right there on the side of what the warning label declares to be a high-cube model. About 8,600 pounds of weathering steel clamped to the back of a semi and loaded with who knows what. This day, clouds and all, I feel it. Super heavy.

This sort of thing makes you think while spending so much time on the roads in the middle of the country. Shipping containers are all over the place out here, on trains and trucks. Danish, German, Korean, Chinese concerns pushing their charges overseas and through the woods and to Grandma's house we go. Curiosity got the better of me, because I had to know how the super heavy vibes got here, and landed on my head and filling my heart with ghosts.

Container ships. It is how it gets done. Insanely large vessels carrying thousands of twenty- and forty-foot long steel boxes full of stuff. Boxes that get loaded, offloaded, put on trucks and trains and sent forth into the world to scatter their contents hither and yon. Things that you didn't know you needed, perhaps, or things you didn't want but found you anyway. It hit me this morning that this is my grief, too. A load of super heavy, coming from a strange place far away.

Amongst my vehicular ruminations in the soggy heat of a tenacious summer I could not also help but wonder just what it is that powers these huge ships that bring us stuff from all points on earth. A little research turned up that most of these vessels burn something called "bunker fuel", which turns out to be sort of the lowest of the low amongst refined petroleum products. It is thick, black-brown sludge leftover after all the other easier to use and more valuable fractions have been extracted from the crude. 

Bunker fuel is so thick you can walk on on it when it is cold. Cheap and easy to get, it burns like the outer rim of hell and creates a lot of pollution generating all sorts of nasty things when it goes up in flames. But it is what drives the fleet. It makes it possible to move tonnage, even if we don't want or need the weight.

Another day, another road trip, and when I spied another yellow triangle the pieces of all this began falling into place. I know why the clouds seem so low, the air too hot, the weight too much to carry. All that semi-useless knowledge and the thick, black well of my grief congealing into a metaphor so bitter I had to laugh as I wiped my eyes.

I've seen this ship before, this behemoth of sadness and grief barreling out of the mist to run me over. Not once, not twice, but three times has the darkness punched me in the heart. A person can't watch three babies dies in his life and feel like he is a typical passenger on the cruise we hope to call life. No one can.

But I know what this is. Having sailed my ship right into a storm only to be fished out of the sea and carried away by a hulking black steel mass known as the MV Grief, I am a container lashed to the deck. The engines thrum and moan, burning the bunker fuel of sadness at a rate that threatens to drain the core of the world. The joke is on us, that this ship burns the same stuff packed into the container that I am. A person-shaped container full of the black-brown sticky spew of hell that wrapped itself around my heart faster than I could scrape it off.

I had to laugh, I said. The images burning in my head were too terrible for any other reaction. I have a secret that the captain of the Grief does not know: I can carry more than his ship can ever dream of. There is no vessel that can carry what I have had to carry. I have proof. I am alive. I burn the bunker fuel in my heart and know that memories of the children and grandchild that I held are cargo that far outweighs the grief of their loss. I am super heavy, but I am not lost at sea.