Archives for posts with tag: certainty

‘It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines;

we would all be together in a sudden strangeness.’

Keeping Quiet – Pablo Neruda[i]

I know you, Pandemic, I see what you’re doing out there. I know your ways, I think.

And I wonder if I stare it down, if I look it straight in the face, it will feel easier? I’ve personified the chaos, in a feeble attempt at agency and my thoughts remind me of dealing with the Grief Monster in sudden widowhood, how the creation of a creature seemed to give us some sense of control.

I have been quiet for a few weeks now, while this new monster rages. I’ve been biding my time, allowing my thoughts to simmer. I worried, (I’m good at that,) that maybe I had nothing to say, no way to express my thoughts of the unfolding trauma. But it seems I was wrong; I was just dazed into numbness by the events. Of course, I’m used to being dazed, I’m used to the lockdown in my head when critical mass is reached and I switch off.

And that’s the thing, it’s all so familiar, this devastation, this savagery and fear. I know this. Sudden loss, a widow and a single parent overnight, I’ve got form. I know isolation.

Yet maybe my mental meandering is just another tool in my kit of coping, it’s a big kit now, heavy, but it serves me well. So, I bring it back down to the personal, to the individual, to the story I know inside out. I look from my window to the quiet streets and feel the ripples of people disorientated, lost, grappling for something to rely on. But where does it leave me? My tiny world, the universe inside me, my loss and fears like the fronds of a fern, are mirrored now, mapped out and scaled up to the global suffering, like the stardust arms of our Milky Way, holding us tight as we cry. Swirls within swirls, tears merging, the individual and the whole, our private pains all part of each other’s. In our anguish and separation, we are never more together.

As I look out of my window, the birdsong seems louder against the quiet streets, the planet readjusting and my letterbox clatters, an unseen hand has touched my post, a stranger in shorts with his bag strapped around him, doing essential work, keeping things ticking. In the almost silence I feel the planet buzzing, the nurses, doctors, trained and strained, working to exhaustion, flooded with compassion but unprepared for this, the community carers, sustaining the elderly, my elderly, my parents supported by others. And the grieving, the unseen, rocking in pain and each digit in the daily statistics is someone’s universe imploding.

And when my newsfeed became too much, I found myself curling inwards, down and out.  My window of tolerance had been reached so I went far away. I took myself off and hid out in Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen. I learned knife skills and in my slicing of scallions and on the perfect plates of his pomme purée, I calmed down. It was a safe place, away from the media and their terror machine, away from the soaring death count. And I rested for a while but then returned.

It’s true to say that ‘critical thinking without hope is cynicism and hope without critical thinking is naïveté.[ii] so I raised my head above the parapet and peered back out in search of balance. I’d realised my quixotic railing at the Government’s windmills wouldn’t help me, neither would wishing for utopian ideals when we come out on the other side.

So then came the search to normalise, now as back then, I scour and plunder, I seek out information on how we might get through this. In widowhood, my coffee table became piled high with teetering tomes of those who’d broken before me, self-care and guidance, spiritual comfort, woo-woo weirdness and scientific rigour of the facts. I’d consume and devour anything that gave me a grip or a foothold in my perilous new world. And now I feel a similar pattern. I’m gathering pandemics on my pc’s open tabs; I’m leaning into the past to see what lies ahead.  The trouble is, it’s just a guide, it’s a consideration of what went before. Like my stack of grief books, they could only hint, they didn’t map my journey, it was mine alone. They might have signposted features of the landscape but my terrain, like everyone’s, is unique, and this pandemic, while resembling the maths and graphs of those before, is still unknown. No amount of planning can prepare you for the event when it finally hits. Like pre-grieving ahead of the inevitable, it’s pragmatic, a dry run in its own way but when it’s real, then all bets are off. I see it now in the Government’s scurrying, scrabbling for resources not purchased in time, in how we turn to think-tanks for the answers, and though they might have prepped and planned, they’re still fallible. They fail.  So, flexibility from the model is essential, hindsight, as everyone accepts, is a glorious thing. But if all these decisions were mine, what would I have done?

So, I travel back to the plague, in the middle ages where quarantines began, where ships were anchored outside the coastal cities, waiting forty days before the sailors could set foot on land. In the 14th century trade and colonization already linked countries, passing wares and sickness around the globe.

And onward to 1918 where the Spanish flu found troops cramped and cooped, dreaming of home, the waves slopping and slapping up the sides, no chance for social distancing as they lay close, and the virus travelled around the globe in months but now with our much smaller world we can share our germs in hours.

But good must come from these dark days now, it will find a way, like the beautiful boulevards, designed and built after cholera, after the open sewers of Paris were purged and swept away.

Still, I have to rail in my Pollyanna[iii] tendency, but it’s as rife as Covid19 itself. It’s our expertise we need to pass around now with the R&D teams across the continents working on a vaccine to protect us all. It’s a chance to share our goals, an opportunity to act for the common good.

I look from my window and watch as the most beautiful of days begins, as a springtime  sun shines down on us, on those waking up crippled by grief under its rays, staff crushed by the sights in the hospitals, the tipping point of people doing their best against nature at its worst. But as the day promises to heat up, the sky turns to a mothering blue, a swaddling in gentle heat, as if to soothe, as if to hush us in our trembling.

Sometimes I think of springtime in Belsen, of blossom falling outside the camps, coating the ground like soft fallen kisses and, whether for a second, for a heartbeat or two, the sun would lift their eyes to the skies, would lift their spirits for a moment.

And we are linked, inextricably, we are one person, suffering, then as now, their pain, is our pain and through this ravaging, hope remains as prevalent as the virus, but its curve will never flatten out.  Awareness of our fragility is laced with resilience and a need to find meaning in our vulnerable lives. In ‘The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology’ Erich Fromm reminds us to ‘find a frame of reference…to escape the experience of utter helplessness, disorientation and up-rootedness.’ but that ‘only through full awareness of the danger to life can our potential be mobilized for action, capable of bringing about drastic changes in our way of organizing our society.’[iv]

And so, the day heats up and we remember when we were free to run, splashing into the surf, giggling in the arms of others, chattering in cafes, pub gardens filled with noise and clatter. And under this savagery, in this necessary pausing we see the minutia of our lives, the reality that we had everything all along. On our shuddering planet, through this global bereavement, it feels as though we took our previous world for-granted, not because it didn’t matter but because we never could conceive of it being torn away.

As people plan to pop out in the sun, to experience its rays in their gardens, in a small way, without a boot full of beach balls and towels, as our appreciation and gratitude for the tiny things grows alongside the death toll, I find it so familiar.

I know this place, this smallness, revelling in the human moments, recalling the heartfelt hug of a friend, the sun stroking the side of your face, a shared joke or being held as the pain raged up through you. It was always about the individual acts of connection, the unseen intricate web of us all. I feel it as I stand by my front door in the cool of Thursday evenings, as I clap and tears roll in the comfort of strangers, in the solidarity, on our socially distanced doorsteps of home.

Human spirit, above all other considerations is the way, to lift up, despite Covid19, and because of it. It’s that bond between the individual and the universal, the threads that bind us tight through the centuries. As humans we have immense capacity for lifting each other up, while we hide away, ‘self-islanding.’[v]

The dissonance between the joy of springtime sun and the realities of the bleakness in the wards seems to underline our fragility, our fleeting space against the force of nature. I remember walking home in sunshine in the first spring since my loss, and how I objected to its glare and the chiffon people all around me while I tried to drag my granite form back home. It seemed improbable that the sun could shine and now, on these blossoms filled days it seems to tease, to remind us of when we lived without the fear of now. But outside my window trees are turning sap green in hope, and every bud is a reminder that this will pass, and something else will come. Leaves will stretch out and each one seems to wave to me while I sit inside, saying wait a while, just stop, hold tight and hold on.

I remember speaking with my counsellor, in the early months, in the dense fog of sudden bereavement. I told her that that I could not move, I had ceased to have any forward motion and from the point of view of the outside world, I was stationary. I told her of the Taoist principle of Wu Wei,[vi] creating action through in-action and of the uncarved block, of something left to its natural state. She didn’t seem to comprehend my stillness and why I felt comfort in the stopping. She referred to herself as a Bereavement Visitor, and she perched on the edge of my silent sofa, in her coordinated colours and oversized wooden beads, peering into her small diary at the end of every session. When she asked ‘would you like to see me again?’ I always answered ‘yes,’ despite our occasional breaches and misses, where our world view had collided. But she insisted that I had been active and so I let it ride, I let it go. One of those moments, so frequent, when someone said or did something that jarred, words that screwed me up on the inside, but I learned to let them pass. I knew in my stillness, in my isolation from the churning world outside, that in my pausing I would regain, I would catch my breath against the tumult of emotions.

And I am reminded of Wu Wei now in our global stillness, while the virus rips though towns. This pausing, like trees in dormant winter, appearing to be static, waiting, biding their time until it’s safe to reveal themselves again. Like the split second of stillness between an in and an out breath, and the fact that silence ‘remains, inescapably, a form of speech and an element of dialogue.’[vii] This enforced opportunity for hush is dialectic, relational to our culture of incessant noise.

But we’re not too good at waiting right now, yet ‘waiting isn’t an in-between time’[viii] although it feels like it, in these instant-add to basket-on demand days. We like prompt resolution, immediate answers, on double speed YouTube vids because we don’t have time. But now time is all we do have, waiting for a vaccine, waiting for isolation to end, for permission to run free again but as Wordsworth states, sometimes solitude can be gracious.

‘When from our better selves we have too long been parted by the hurrying world.’[ix] Like the structure of Hindu temples a progression of rooms reducing in size until the smallest with the statue, a communion, an essential stripping away of all distraction. And so, we come face to face with ourselves, highlighting our work-in -progress from which we try to hide. It is with hope like a glisk[x] that ‘we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth into the enchanted place.’[xi]

But it’s that sense of impotence against it all, now as then. So, it’s back to baby steps, the phrase used liberally by the widowed community, a mantra which we pass around between ourselves when reality becomes too much. That’s all we can do. So, we’re indoors and we have food and Wi-Fi and that’s enough. I’m powerless against the chaos and carnage in the hospitals, I can clap but I can’t fund the shattered staff.

There’s a sense of being at war with this microscopic enemy, unseen but ever-present behind our daily life. I think about my parents, children in WW2, air raid shelters in the back yard, sitting out with flash lights waiting for the all clear from the bombs. I imagine they must have grown accustomed to that on-amber feeling, as I have done. My familiar foes of hyper vigilance and anxiety are often lying in wait for me, skilled assailants in the art of ambush.

 And I think of my grandfather and the assailants in his world. He was a caster, a miner, in the unrelenting harshness of his days. As a young man in his teens he fought in WW1, but he never spoke about his time as a prisoner, the images from the Japanese camps were locked away inside him, while he raised a family, toiled the allotments, providing daily veg for his three girls. And I think of my grandfather with his voiceless memories, his calloused hands planting sweet-pea seeds, bringing beautiful blooms back to their two-up two-down terraced house. It’s these moments of value, of joy amongst the suffering that resonate and call out now.

Before the pandemic separated us all, a good friend gave me sweet-pea seeds. I was never much of a gardener but I will plant these out soon like my grandfather did, and remember the resilience in my genes, our careful contouring[xii] and our inherent pull to hope.  I will feel gratitude for these moments of stillness, this enforced retreat from the speed of our world, a chance to reconsider how I live.

But I can consider this from my sofa, and we have Netflix, we have food in our first world cell. And I think of others in Brazilian slums, huddled under cardboard and tin, families living on top of each other, with no gardens to watch the birds, no space, no sanitation, no antibacterial wash to clean their hands. Yet I’m reminded of our alikeness, that they’re just different versions of me and our son, people like us but clutching cups of water instead of scrolling on iPhones.

As Marcus Aurelius points out, ‘it has long been shown that we are born for community’[xiii] so evident now in the swathes of people signing up to be volunteers, reaching out to strangers, groups of helpers springing up like the trees coming into bud.

And there’s something calming in the understanding that we’re all the same. In this illusion of separateness, from slums to sidewalks, refugee camps to condos, my grandfather’s tiny terrace to our home, we are all linked.

I know this place, this waiting, this sense of homesickness while still at home. That familiar searching for a feeling of safety that you get when you close the front door. But you close the front door and the feelings are still there, that marrow deep yearning for it to be a different world. And as we creep into another week by ourselves I remember counting back then, in bereavement’s bleak beginning. I used to note the tiles in the splash back behind my oven. There are twelve of them. I used to count the days, then tiles turned to weeks and months, stood stirring something, noting how my metric had changed and the tiles which represented so many hours, then marked out many weeks. Now I’m still marking time, a prisoner in my mind, ticking up not down.

I hope we’re not still here in many weeks, I hope enough has changed but now, as then, a new normal will emerge. I’m so used to waiting, to just being, and the solidarity with the unseen, the philoxenia,[xiv]a balm to our wounds in the kindness of strangers. Hour at a time, minute by minute, stepping with care into our changed reality and whatever lies beyond.

The blossom waves to me from outside my window, so joyous, ‘all froth and flutter, like swathes of taffeta’[xv]around a bride. The birdsong bookends our days and they sing out, emphatic. I wonder what they’re saying? They’ve seen it all before, maybe they’re trying to tell us that we’ll be ok?

Despite our hiraeth[xvi]we gather strength, we come up with a new plan. We have hope. Always. And we thole on.[xvii]


[i] https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/28/keeping-quiet-sylvia-boorstein-reads-pablo-neruda/

Accessed 17/04/2020

[ii] https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/02/09/hope-cynicism/

Accessed 17/04/20

[iii] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/pollyanna

A person who believes that good things are more likely to happen than bad things, even when this is very unlikely.

Accessed 19/04/2020

[iv] https://www.brainpickings.org/2020/03/22/erich-fromm-revolution-of-hope/

Accessed 17/04/20

[v] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “isolate” – to place apart, to stand detached from one’s surroundings.

From the Italian “isolare”, “to reduce to an island”; itself from Latin “insula”, “island”.

In Welsh, “self-isolation” is “hunan ynysu”, literally “self-islanding”.

04/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[vi] Hoff, B. The Tao of Pooh, 1989, (Mandarin Paperbacks, London, UK), p68

[vii] https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/06/the-aesthetic-of-silence-susan-sontag/

Accessed 17/04/20

[viii] https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/12/17/jason-farman-delayed-response/Accessed 17/04/20

‘Waiting isn’t a hurdle keeping us from intimacy and from living our lives to the fullest. Instead, waiting is essential to how we connect as humans in the messages we send. Waiting shapes our social lives in many ways, and waiting is something that can benefit us. Waiting can be fruitful.’

[ix] Storr, A. Solitude 1997 (Harper Collins, London) p202

[x] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “glisk” -sunlight glimpsed through a break in the clouds, a fleeting glance at a glittering sight, a brief glow of warmth from fire that’s burned low, a sudden flash of hope in the heart.  (Scots) 06/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[xi]   https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/28/keeping-quiet-sylvia-boorstein-reads-pablo-neruda/

Accessed 17/04/2020

[xii] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “contouring” – when traversing steep or unsure ground, picking a path that holds its height.

On the hill, as in life, a means of staying steady, of keeping level even when the going is rough, the world falling away to one side or the other. 05/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[xiii] Aurelius, M. Meditations 2006, (Penguin Random House, London, UK) p41

[xiv] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “philoxenia” – lit. ‘friendship to/love of strangers’ (Greek Φίλοξενϊά). Kindness shown to people unknown; hands opened in care to those in need; tenderness offered across time & space. An ancient virtue for modern times. 08/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[xv] https://www.janeylfoster.com/2020/04/17/white-cloud/

Accessed 17.4.2020

[xvi] https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2012/09/18/dreaming-in-welsh/

‘To feel hiraeth is to feel a deep incompleteness and to recognise it as familiar. Mae hiraeth arna amdanot ti. There’s a homesickness on me for you.’

Accessed 19/04/2020

[xvii] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) ‘Word of the Day: “thole”- as a noun, the ability to bear hardship. As a verb, to endure patiently, to slog through tough times; “to thole on” (Scots). 16/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

Early December 2019 – Hard Frost.

It’s very endings out there, very closings and while I’m tucked up warm inside I can feel the weight of people rushing and stressing but it’s not for me.
I am a winter baby and how many times in this work will I have mentioned this and how many times do I stop and feel thankful for this fact?

There is a resonance with my cycles and with the seasons and now, pivoting at the end of a decade, I feel full. I’m ready to wear monochrome clothes, to mirror the weathering and huddle down to wait for spring. But spring is a distant concept as we shuffle forwards towards Christmas. 

I’m so lost in number right now, so imbued 
with the elegance of maths and it comes from our boy. Our boy, the man on the train in this winter’s morning, heading out to where derivatives lie and he takes the integral between zero and infinity because he can, as it flows out from him like a song, like a melody that he has written in his sleep. But I can’t sing. I clunk and chug with number but I am drawn into it like a child, nose squashed up against the toy shop window, hot cheeks against the ice and deep inside, the toy maker carves his wonders. And I want to hold them, I want to be allowed inside to rummage and explore. I want to build and construct, to play with the forms in front of me but I can’t, not yet. I am outside the Toy Shop of Number but the door is open and a rounded man in red invites me in. 

I can do fractions now, I am learning and it’s very Me, very let’s take on something I don’t understand, like grief. Of course after a decade, well almost, of learning to breathe as a widow, my knowledge is deep, my enforced wisdom cocoons me and I know enough. 

But I’m a little too full to be honest as I try to tease out the threads of this work, as I stumble around my mixed metaphors but it’s alright, it’s now and I send an out breath into my quiet kitchen and up and out with the steam in the frost. I feel myself tiptoe to the summit of some vast mountain and I want to peer over the edge, I want to look behind me and see the footsteps we took to get here, crevices hacked into the snow, and how my hands ache from the cold, how they bleed into the ground, forming pink rivulets of ribbons marking out my path and here we are. 

At the edge, on the top, with the decade behind us, teetering with just mist and unknown lands beyond our sight. 

I sit down on the mountain and let the iced air trace its way down through my throat, my windpipe, to my lungs and feel its chill. Out in the mist, our boy melts the snow beneath him, uses equipment I don’t understand, to heave, then stride along and I can breathe. My breath dances out before me, rippled and white like a veil of grief that leads the way, that spirals up and out, dissolving in the chaos of sunlight as I sit here. And then the next breath and the veil rises and floats, expands and disperses and I’m so used to this. 

I imagine my struggle is between the rigour and logic of number, of its construct that underpins our world and the magic of its revealed beauty. And we count down, sleeps to Christmas, then days to the End of the Year and the media throbs with the lists and reviews, scooping itself up in a riot of memory, highlighting how we’ve aged and how we’ve changed. 

As we opened ourselves up to the new decade back then, we were safer, more certain of our worlds or were we just too immersed in our smallness to see the unfolding news? I suppose that’s my learning, and how linear everything was back then, how holidays were planned ahead and there was expectation and prediction but we didn’t predict widowhood – well you wouldn’t. And then thirteen months into the decade, linear graphing ceased. 

There were no formulas to map the areas under the waves which my life created, no way to simplify the expressions, to substitute out the difficult parts and craft a solution to its integral. There was nothing to be manipulated or calculated, there was just the number 2. Me and our boy.

And then time happened and then clocks just did their thing and that’s the problem. It’s all number-ticking-number, hours and months and years. I acknowledge it, I roll into it but sit outside and watch. Watch the chaos in the country, the Westminster circus, the pantomime in Europe, the unfolding uncertainty swaddling an aging planet, a turning solar system and then there’s us.

Me and our boy on a mountain top in the snow, in the coldest of days looking out. 
He carves calculus into the white with a big stick that he’s found while I photograph the icicles in a world tuned upside. 
And this is our mountain and we have climbed it.

And here in my one hundredth post I count in moments, in the abyss, in the joy.
One hundred times I’ve sat and tapped and poured my mind out, and ten years we have travelled. And 9 of them we have survived and inched in grief. 

It’s only number, it’s only time.

I need to stand up again and brush the snow from my cold legs. The sun warms us, melts the impacted white as we trudge on. 
Fur tickles my face, photons glint on our cheeks. 
The mother, the writer, the boy, the mathematician. 
Birds circle, sing above us.
Numbers change and we go on.

PS

December 31st 2019

This time last year we were in Hamburg, a re-imagined city, a Phoenix like ourselves, built on the remnants of how it used to be and we had sailed.
We’d sailed out on the same ship that held us close on our first journey, in the fractured chaos chronicled by my first post. And last year I took a book with me, Mary Wollstonecraft’s – Letters Written in Denmark, Norway and Sweden and she travelled with her baby as I travel with our son.
And now one year later as our boy welcomes in a new decade with his mates, I write through the silence, miles from our fireworks over Hamburg and I look back.
December 31st 2018
‘But eleven days of weariness on board … have so exhausted my spirits to say nothing of other causes’ she begins and dear Mary tells me she ‘adheres to determination to give observations, as I travel through new scenes,warmed with the impressions they have made on me’ and I breathe. I am in good company. 
Her words take me back to the start of my writing and in my first post, in fog I wrote. ‘Eleven years ago I could not walk, an unstable pelvis hampered my plans for a natural birth’ and there I sat and wrote on this ship, on THIS SHIP, in my younger pain -worn body and I was there in my unstable world of widowhood with our ten year old boy at my side. 
And you see why I am full. Seven years and three months have past in this unpredictable land and we are here again. Noting the structure, the shape of the rooms and whilst Mary has her baby with her, I have my baby, grown. Our tiny boy with the luggage he’s learned to carry is now 18, a young man by my side, with his father’s eyes and we weave down long corridors, we sway but hold onto the sides. 
How can this be? These cabins are the same, refurbished decor but the mirror surrounds reflect a solid me, a stoical me, a me that has soldiered on, like I always did, like I do and just beneath the reflection I remember her face, hair thicker and longer than now, features on the edge of what he knew. She ripples past me like the lyrics of a favourite song, like a passing wave and then gone. Here – gone. There – gone, bobbing, remaining, twirling around me and she calls out to me, pleads to me with her eyes, with her out stretched hands. 
‘But how do I live? How do I do this?’
And I say ‘hush, hush now and just breathe. Hold tight and hold on.’
xxx

 

The glass in the sink is full, the tap drips shaking the surface tension of the water as it rocks. It seems to say I’m here. The venetian blinds shatter and reform, shatter and rebuild and they’re the only movement. The sounds change as the drop hits the surface, sometimes a ding, sometimes a tink and I seem the be the water. Still and smooth, then ruffled, then agitated, then quiet, settled. And this how it is. I am contained in the glass for now.

And next to the sink is my tomato plant, I’ve watered it well over these last few weeks and how it’s grown. How tall and willowed it seems now.  In recent days I’ve thought how it’d outgrown its pot, and every day I thought I must repot it, give it more room to spread. But there was always something else to do and so it remained in the pot that the seeds had been planted in. 

But it still grew. It’s too tall now to keep indoors and I can almost hear it calling out re-pot me, please re-pot me and I almost did last night. But not quite. This morning though, the day and the weather is perfect.

This morning the grey weight of clouds bandages our town like a sense of a mother in the background of it all, at a distance, keeping watch. And I will repot the tomato plant today as our boy makes his way to his last exam before the summer unfolds for him, before his sky opens wide and turns to blue, before autumn expands his horizon. And he will stretch out long and tall and wide, his roots anchored deep in familiar soil but there will be such space, a new pot, vast with potential, rich with extra compost around his wriggling feet and he will spread.

I need to repot my tomato plant today. The window is open.  The vague breeze trembles its young leaves, as if to say hello to me, as if to summon me to the soil. It needs a bigger pot and then its steady solid growth will burst up and out and it will flourish and later there will be fruit, soft, round and full of sweetness on our plates.

And we will be nourished by the things we’ve grown. The things tended and cared for and how glorious to watch fruit ripen in the sun, roots secure and leaves and new shoots reaching up. 

The tap still drips into my glass, its tiny tinkling sound repeats, as if a steady clock still marks time. And clouds drift, and things grow. A silent bee on foxgloves nuzzles into pollen. The day wakes up. 

My glass is so full now, I’ll use it to water the tomato plant, to settle it into new soil. It’s early. Our town is quiet, our boy is ready, he picks up his graphical calculator as I open the drawer to my left. 

I pull on my gardening gloves and step out onto the patio. We need a bigger pot.

xxx

 

April 16th

It was bitter in Paris, the wind sliced across our faces like a knife but it was Easter, an adventure, of sorts and everything was giddy, new.  

I’d stared through the window watching the propeller on my first ever flight, as though I alone kept the plane in the air, as though sitting by my fiancé and opposite the air hostess, my only job was to control the wings. 

It was twenty-one years ago, our second holiday and it sparkled and danced like the lights across the Seine. 

Despite trawling around Tourist Information Centres on a heaving Easter weekend, we were ok. Despite our desperation for an upgrade from the dilapidated B&B and the hauling of our luggage down the rues and boulevards to the new one that we found, we were still fine. And ushered to a cramped room by a spherical hotelier who beamed and pointed to the spiral stairs to breakfast, we settled in. Carefree with croissants and we unpacked.

We ticked off attractions like you do when you’re invincible and the icy wind didn’t bother us. It took pieces out of us thoughas we crossed the square to Notre Dame and battered us as we stood with everyone else, waiting for the warmth of her arms.

And we shuffled and we inched. In the darkness and smell of ancient wood I lost myself. I remembered the floor in that sacred silence, the air that hummed and buzzed with rustling tourists, I remembered the thick smell of dust and sweat and little more. Wrapped up in Our Lady I was taken ill, I was helped to sit down somewhere away from the crowds and I saw feet, lots of them, the shoes of my fiancé and those of a strange woman whose name we never knew. 

And this morning while ash settles in the streets there, while people lift up their eyes to view the savage route of flames, I think of the lady who came to help usAnd she’s a memory of a warm patterned skirt, oranges, yellows and browns, swirls and circles like flames around her feet. She sat while I regained myself, called us a taxi and stayed with us until it came. I never saw her face but had a sense of her on my left, she wished us well for our marriage, blessed us with healthy children and was gone. 

And I think of our lady today, I wonder where she is in this moment, if she thinks of Notre Dame and the couple who she helped years ago. Does she remember the young women, who only saw the stone floor of the Cathedral but who is tied to it now, somehow. There in Paris, in the coldest of Easters, the ancient monument became a gatekeeper to their life.

The light falls over the place where the Spire had been, and deep inside there is the echo of a woman sitting. And she will be rebuilt and carry on. 

Post Script

April 17th

We married one year later and as I wake to thick fog, it engulfs my town, my road, my mind, like the smoke engulfed the Spire and I am tumbling down into the structure, cascading in the edifice, sparks and flames mix with blossom, with confetti. They float around me, glorious, transient, burning up in the atmosphere of the day, in the flickerings, the fleeting gasps of time.

Twenty springs have passed, twenty bursts of blossom and it is full now, resplendent, magnificent. It swishes around in my peripheral vision like swathes of ivory taffeta, like a girl. And it will age, fall and flutter to the ground, to become part of the soil that feeds the tree. Until next year and she will be back to bloom again.

Time itself, our companion on the journey, folded into Parisian rubble and the strength to rebuild, striving, resilient, fragrant with hope.

Always – in the memory of blossom. 

xxx

 

 

 

I watch a bird move and its serendipity, of sorts. I watch it fly through the trees I can’t reach and clouds I’d rather clamber on, but I cannot. I am still again.

And when I got up in the night, in the thick blackness of four o’clock, I heard a bird. In the night that almost dreamt of morning, I heard a bird. It chirruped through my open bathroom window in the black. I couldn’t listen. How removed it seemed from any sensibilities, how it almost ridiculed me, to be singing in the night. To find joy without the dawn but still it sang.

It sang from instinct, I imagine, from an inbuilt urge to fly. And wings that beat need food and food comes with the dawn. Daylight will come soon. It had certainty, it knew and I know too, although I couldn’t sing then. I had no wings at four in the morning, no sense of movement and little now.

Still the night has shifted since, gone elsewhere and here after the suns heat has bled fierce into the clouds, the day has settled. Soft grey bandages and streaks of silver sit in silent observation. A bird cuts through, driven, focussed and I go around again. Round and around and around again. Still and movement, still and movement, like the wheels pushed by pedals that pass my window now, like the heartbeat of the bird who craves the food. Relentless on, on, on then stopping, resting like the plants that sleep outside.

My garden is quiet, like me, tattered by winter and time. Leaves rest late in their stumbled piles where I had brushed them. They mulch down to such a haven, a treasure to rustle and poke about with eager beaks and I will watch.

Still garden. Silent tired and waiting. Some things pop up, new shoots, pale green with its energy dormant like mine and I can see them. Amongst the weeds and things push up, there are moments, flashes of the garden I used to know. Branches clamber round me, hold me steady as I sway and thorns pierce deep, bloodletting in winter, onto my soil, into my earth, like it has always been. I watch the cuts, they scratch across my arms, white in the cold, thin in the winds and lines draw red. And here’s my garden, concrete waiting, collecting moss and here’s my pond that will burble and thrive. 

But not now. Now it is February, now it holds me as I wait, tiptoeing through weeds and old growth, roots that twist back up through earth. This is my land now. I tend the old plants, prune them, hold and study them in my hand. How familiar they are, yet how startling. So brittle, yet strong in my gaze.

And my hands will feed them, tend to their growth spurts when they come and they will, and they do. Tangled weavings all around me, bracken and thickets of spikes, tendrils that pull onto my legs and I flump down. I find more thorns, they cut into me and I watch in the cold as bright blood forms small spheres on white skin. I pat the wound and smear out red, then clean it well. The air stings across the open flesh but I’m used to tending to the pain. I dab it dry, look after it and bandage it safe till next time.   

I sit in my garden now, cold stillness of winter, bulbs nestling in the darkness, full of verveI water the old things  I serve them well. Shoots bob up, green spears through the black hume, it won’t be long. And it is February, I’m still, I’m winter but spring will come again and I will grow. For others it’s only February but for me, I turn to stone.

xxx

 

14th

I’ve been tiding up today, in old corners in preparation for Monday. Our teen is approaching the end of school and planning a break from revision with a take over in the lounge, with his mates, with their games, with their testosterone. And I’ll be upstairs, away from the event, in my own event in my mind.

Amongst the dust and old receipts today, I found our life, scrumpled up in dog-eared magazines in the scrawl of our younger boy’s hand and the photos. Lost days caught in pixels, faces I used to know and they looked back at me. Deep sea diving, distorted thumbs up from a submerged world in our past and I went back. Back to the presents from friends, to the trips and the linear life that we knew and while I brushed remnants into the dustpan, our son woke himself up watching You tube.

He has subscribed to many channels now, some fascinating, some nonsense but it’s his world and on Monday while I’m away in my head, his world and the connections he has made will fill our room. I’ll welcome the loudness of teenage boys, the inescapable movement of time in contrast to the blossom in my thoughts. It’s nearly here.

The sunlight pours in through my blinds as I take a break from tidying. The edge of petals deepen red, the purples turn to pink and I stop.

There was such excitement eighteen years ago, nervous energy getting the final jobs done. Long distance guests arriving tomorrow and everything gearing up for the day. My friend would make the journey south, her toddlers at Grandma’s for the day. She would strap me into my dress and lace boots. Her toddlers are adults now and, like our son, full of verve and possibilities with virtual worlds at a touch.

We had no fb to post our wedding pictures on, no tweets about the highlights of the day. No instagramed tweaked shots, filtered to perfection just an aperture and the light flooding in, just a dark room and the chemicals bleeding us out of the paper, in our finest clothes, in our silk and taffeta, in our scarlet and cream. In crisp suits that smelled of corsages and we emerged, an image at the church door, an imprint on glossy paper in a tray. There was nothing instant in those days, just smiling and waiting and wondering.
And now the excitement builds again, our teen is planning food and games, a re-charging of batteries in a multiplayer universe where I don’t belong.
On Monday my home will be rich in the scent of lilies, now as back then, perfumed in petals from my roses, under the vibrant sound of youth.

On my stairs there will be a portal, an aperture where I’ll cross between the worlds, a necessary doorway between this present and our past and I’ll move through.

And while our boy winds down and whips up I’ll return to my own multiplayer universe where all the faces are frozen in time, where I pause and rewind and play again because I can, because it’s a game I love so much. Away from the hubbub downstairs, back in the spring sunshine with confetti in my hair.

16th

And now Sunday is around me as I finish favours and take place cards to the hotel in my mind. In every re-run I’m one rose short, so I rushed to haberdashery shop, bought a single silk flower and stuck it in position while relatives nattered, before I was driven home. I rustled the bagged dress up the stairs, felt the nerves surround me and watched the clock.

And back here in the now, the bunny ears have arrived for our son. He’s agreed to tell his mates the gaming is off and instead an egg hunt has been arranged! I’m so tempted to come back downstairs tomorrow and ask the hoards, using my best playgroup voice,

‘Would anyone like a jelly ?’

And we laugh, he knows I won’t, of course. I’ll be away amongst the daffodils with the Cathedral to my side and I will smile.

The afternoon is ticking, my lilies are opening up and in the pungent air of our teen prepared lounge I pause, I watch the blackbird bathe – tomorrow is approaching.

17th

Our son’s asleep and all around me in the opening of petals are the moments, fast forward and rewound, and paused and played again. The sepia pixels finding colour as I check the clock and watch myself in the corner of our little lounge, with women attending and flowers arriving and the air rich with perfume and nerves.

I need to put the sausage rolls on, in the present, our son needs to do his last minute checks and the home is still. All I can hear is the throbbing of the fridge and cars brushing away outside while in my mind the layers build, the fragments flutter round me and I am younger, I am preparing and I am there.

And the tarmac fell away to fields, distant crops and clouds, and closing in as the birds sang out, to the gate and the rush of last minute friends. Downstairs now, the food and drink are piled high, devices are charged as I swish up the path, past old stones and ancient trees to the welcome faces at wooden doors.

And our son waits for the cars full of mates while you wait in the hush as I walk in. Our son’s party starts soon. The lilies open wide their faces to the clouds. Heavy pollen drenched, like memory.

In hope, in certainty.

xxx