Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Selkie

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney

The last movie I saw before I gave birth to Sophie on March 8th, 1995 was based on a story about selkies called "The Secret of Roan Innish." A weird and wonderful movie, it would become almost emblematic for me after Sophie was born and we found ourselves on the path that would lead us to California. Celtic mythology relating to the sea is magical, and what has always fascinated me were the stories of selkies -- seals who shed their skins and take human form. A female Selkie leaves her skin and comes ashore as a beautiful maiden, and while most sea creatures in myth are frightening or hostile, seals, with their soft, mournful eyes are transformed into gentle earthly beings. If humans capture her skin, the selkie is forced to stay human and is described, generally, as a fine, wistful woman. If she finds her skin, however, she immediately returns to the sea, leaving those she loves to mourn for her.

Sophie's hair is soft and curly and her features are fine. She holds herself delicately, almost gingerly, and is often described as otherworldly. When we began taking her to an osteopath in southern California after a good year's worth of fruitless medical treatment in New York, we noticed that her symptoms subsided by the ocean. Fourteen years later, to this day, Sophie is transformed by the ocean. The moment her bare feet feel the sand, she pulls insistently toward the water. We have said that the water is pulling her toward it, so dramatic is the change in her level of alertness. She doesn't have seizures by the sea. She looks out, over it and smiles a half-smile. I like to think that like a selkie she is searching for her lost world and that she is actually lost in ours. She shed her skin and was born to me, pulled unwittingly into a world that insists on keeping her.

We went to the ocean today, Sophie and I. We walked on the sand and down to the water. Sophie lifted her head and really gazed out to the sea. Happy Birthday, my Sophie-girl, my selkie.


  1. Oh hon that's beautiful! Am in tears - what a perfect word picture! I have always adored selkies! Happy birthday to your water girl and hugs to you, Sarah

  2. I know of the selkies from the beautiful ballad, "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry." I had never heard of the legend you write of, which is beautiful one. Thank you for this moving post.

    And amed to Sarah's blessing.

  3. Wishing your girl a happy birthday. I loved reading this.

  4. I had not heard this legend. It's beautiful, and it could also describe me. I feel a kinship with your Sophie, of course because of her birthdate, but now also because of this quality about her.
    When I was grwoing up, we had a lovely home in a suburb and a tiny, rustic cabin by the sea. My HOME was the cabin, and I was always homesick until I returned to it; ALWAYS. So much so that, when I became an adult, I moved to a home within a few miles of the cabin, and I live on the water, too. It's a fact about me; I am never happier than by the sea (though I'm not a great swimmer). It's HOME. I'm so glad that you told this about Sophie. Happy Birthday, lovely girl!

  5. Beautiful post. I loved the movie and I love the legend, and that photo of Sophie is stunning. Happy Birthday, Sophie...

  6. What a beautiful piece about your Sophie.

  7. I had never hear that myth before. I love it.

    Loved hearing about your day by the water with Sophie, both on the phone, and now through your post...

    happy birthday to the BOTH of you!

  8. Your elegant writing has a way of expressing your love for Sophie, for all of your children, and for life itself in a deeply feeling, but non-sentimental way that uplifts rather than diminishes and leaves me silent, hands poised above these keys, appreciative.

  9. What a beautiful post...that movie is one of my favorites also.

  10. I have always found the ocean to be a healing place, a place to connect, to find peace, to become whole again. It is so lovely to imagine you and Sophie at the beach, her beautiful soft hair blowing in the ocean breeze, your quiet celebration of the day you shared together when she entered this world. Happy Birthday to you Sophie. And much love to you Elizabeth.

  11. I'll have to watch that movie again now, with the perspective of being a mother to a special girl.

  12. Happy Birthday, Sophie! What a wonderful tribute to her, Elizabeth. This is absolutely lovely.

  13. Thank you for sharing that - I'd never heard of it before. Off to do some Googling.

    I personally believe only the very best of souls are allowed to flourish by the sea - seems fitting.

  14. I have no words. Happy belated birthday, Sophie.

  15. So beautiful! I love that movie too - now I will think of Sophie when I see it. There's another similar tale from the Maori, which was also made into a fabulous movie - Whale Rider - I'm sure you know of it and have seen it. I'd like to see both these movies again since you've reminded me of them. I can see how the tales of our forbears should be kept alive - they help us in our darknesses.

  16. that is one of my favorite movies...ever. you retell the story so beautifully. and what a blessing to have a selky in your midst. Happy birthday to your beautiful daughter.

    and thank you for stopping by my blog. i will definitely come back here to yours as well.

  17. Beautiful. Happy Birthday Sophie.

  18. Elizabeth - I'm a new reader - but I enjoy your thoughtfully written posts. This post reminded me too strongly of something not to comment on it - I was wondering if you were aware of the novel by Erica Wagner called Seizure? Here is a review:

    The novel is set in a remote part of Scotland and the selkie story is a mythical undercurrent in the book. The main protagonist suffers mild seizures and compares her transformation through her seizures like that of the selkies to humans. The author suffered mild seizures herself and has published on the impact they had on her writings:

    I am aware that the "seizure" of the title and the way it is presented in the story is no way comparable to the severity of your beautiful daughter's condition; I hope you do not think I am being trite - but it seemed that the relation between your post and the theme of th book was too much not to comment on.

    God bless your family - I will keep reading, enjoying and praying.


  19. Thank you all, as always, for your wonderful, supportive comments! Anonymous, I have ordered the book and look forward to reading it -- thanks for the heads up!

  20. This post is one of my favorites. I love the idea of our children, children with disabilities, being changelings, caught between two worlds.



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