The Ferryman

Kristen Skedgell Weaver

I wonder about those signs on bridges, the ones that say, “Life is worth living”—so absolute in their simplicity, like the addict’s “Just say no,” or the poor man’s “Get a job.” I mean, what tear-streaked soul, dangling over the railing, is going to look around the tar pit he walked himself into, and consider that this moment of intense suffering is merely that, a moment, and the thoughts that say “Quit!” are merely thoughts; that life is just a game of chance and choice and depending on the card you drew, another angel could get his wings if you find a reason to go on.

          Personally, I like Winston Churchill who fought his own black dog, that Cerberus at the gate. I don’t know how many bridges he crossed in 1941 to get to those barely men at the Harrow School, after the “very terrible catastrophic” first ten months of ceaseless bombings, and how their eager scrubbed faces shone in the white sunlight of an overcast October day and remember what he said?  He said, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never give in.”  It was the shortest speech in history and the boys like angels sang.

          I didn’t know that speech when I was nine, when my angel first appeared to me or maybe, like the doctors say, it was my healthy inner Self asserting itself. There was a blizzard and school was closed. I played alone outdoors, far from the icy stillness of home. Wind lashed me this way and that. I made a game of it—to see how long I could stand against it until, subdued, I crashed into a drift. Suddenly there was silence but silence like I’d never heard, breathtaking, breath…taking peace that stunned me with its welcome. I burrowed into it like a small animal and drank from the warm, soft underbelly of snow that surrounded me. This was what death must be like and I knew that if I closed my eyes and fell asleep in that white embrace, I would be freed from the sadness—theirs, that is, my father’s, my mother’s. And as I lay in the Ice Queen’s cocoon, my angel spoke to me or maybe it was God or Earth Mother or my healthy inner Self and she said, “Don’t quit ever.” And those were the first words I recorded in my first diary.

          It comes down to this, I think, this life on the bridge. You have to want to go somewhere even if you don’t see anywhere to go. Trust that part of you that wants, wants anything. Desire is not the enemy. The dead want nothing. They have arrived. Longing is the hallmark of the living. Don’t fear longing. Don’t fear failure. Fear the day, halfway across the bridge, when your car stalls out at rush hour, radiator smoking, and you walk away from it, indifferent to the horns blasting and the commuters cursing. You walk to the railing, lean over as far as you can and stare into the churning water below, judging how far and how long.  A stranger walks by, turns around and leans over the railing next to you.  You don’t recognize her, this angel of your better self, but when she throws herself into the river, you dive in after her.

          That’s when he comes chugging along—the burly, weary ferryman returning from his last run of the day. He throws you a line, pulls you into the boat, and brings you back to life’s surprising shore, where you still belong.

Kristen Skedgell Weaver’s poetry and essays have appeared in The Johns Hopkins Magazine, Ibbetson Street, This One Has No Name, Chicago Tribune and other publications. She is the author of Losing the Way, a memoir about her experience in a fundamentalist cult. Her latest play was semi-finalist at two international competitions. She is currently working on a serial novel on her blog at, a website she shares with her husband, Afaa Michael Weaver.

© Variant Literature Inc 2021