Iceberg Lives by Jamie Kirkpatrick


We all lead them: iceberg lives. Anyone can clearly see the visible parts of our lives, the parts that lie above the waterline—our families and friends; our homes; our jobs; what we do and say, the color of our eyes, what we ate for breakfast. Far less apparent, however, is all that lies beneath the surface of the water: the secrets of our hearts, those parts of us known only to God.

We know that the tip of the iceberg is the visible part—our public personae, our apparent selves—but it is also the smaller portion, perhaps as little as 10% of our berg’s entire mass. That leaves the far larger portion of whom we are lying below the waterline, invisible to others, maybe even lost to our own view.

At the very least, we float on a long strand of DNA, our chromosomes and genes, stretching back generations into the mist. That’s the “nature” part of each of us: tribal, determinant, inescapable. Then there is also the “nurture” part: birth order, where we live, how we were raised, how our parents were raised by their parents and so on and so on and so on. These are the subtle shadings, perhaps not readily apparent to ourselves or anyone else but present nonetheless and these elements of our personalities may inform our lives and daily interactions just as much as the more nature-given components of our beings. But I believe there is even more that holds us up from below: our hopes and dreams, yearnings, longings, our greatest loves, our darkest fears. Although often hidden, these, too, combine to sculpt that part of us that’s visible to all.

Because so much of its mass lies below the surface of the ocean, an iceberg is usually highly stable. However, from time-to-time, a berg “rolls over” and what was below becomes the topmost and apparent part. It’s a highly dramatic event that can create a tsunami-size wave, but when this does happen, startling new colors and formations become visible for the first time—dark, mesmerizing hues and textures that challenge our perception of what we thought we once knew. I suppose the same would be true of our own individual icebergs. Flip us over and all manner of things, previously dark and submerged would suddenly be revealed in the cold, clear light of day. Talk about a tsunami!

But icebergs have no dark secrets to reveal, only beautiful glassine features that glisten and sparkle in the sunlight. How I wish that were true of humans! I’d like to think that if my own iceberg flipped over, the ice that emerged would be free of debris, undamaged, pristine, dazzling. Alas, friends! I’m all too human for that—we all are—so perhaps it’s better if we each work hard to maintain our delicate equilibrium and let what lies below remain below.

Icebergs are just floating chunks of frozen water calved from glaciers; upright or capsized, they are whole. To be human, however, means (among other things) being part seen and part unseen. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to improve, to do good in the world, or to be good people. After all, when it comes time for each of us to roll over—and eventually we all do— wouldn’t it dazzling if what lay below was even more beautiful than the tip above?

Happy New Year!

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is

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