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The Healing Ways of Grief


Words by Michael Rowe

My favourite haiku was written by Kobayashi Issa, a Japanese master who lived in the late 18th and early 19th Century. In English translation it goes like this:


O snail

Climb Mt. Fuji

But slowly, slowly


I loved the poem instantly the first time I read it. It was as though the poem was written for me, or as though I myself might have written it, two centuries later and thousands of miles away. I love the poet’s tenderness for the little snail. I love the snail’s determination, so engrained in its soft body under its bony shell that the concept of determination would be meaningless to it: climbing Mt. Fuji is simply what it does. I love the humor in the poet’s tenderness toward the snail, the laughter he shares with it, not laughter at its expense.


There’s no Sisyphus here pushing a boulder up the mountain only to lose his grip at the peak, watch it bounce and rumble down the mountain, and make his way down to put his shoulder to it once more, forever. It’s enough that the snail carries on its back a bony shell that protects it from harm and is part and parcel of what it is, a tiny lumbering traveler who will make it to the top or will not, but will be who it is along the way, never stopping until its heart does. And a little encouragement from a poet passing by can only help—“Little snail, do what you do, be who you are, keep climbing, slowly, slowly. And be kind to yourself along the way.”