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‘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

October 19th 2017 

And as our son’s train leaves the platform and he heads off with his mates, I find myself.

I find my mind has drifted to this city and the first time I came down. I remember your tall friend who criticised the way you ate asparagus and we wandered down through West Gate and out towards the Cathedral. It was June or July, the afternoon was warm and the streets were full of entertainers, crowds shoving to get a better view. We must have stayed a while, chatting but your friend has blurred into a mist of that weekend and her flat at the top of town and her party games when we were brand new. 

Our son’s train has arrived now, I checked his progress on my phone and as he wanders off with his new friends, I see the light lift here and I go back. 

I bought you a book years ago ‘How to Read a Church,’ though you didn’t use it at the Cathedral. It’ll be on its side in the bookshelves somewhere, stuffed in amongst all the others. I keep thinking about the Cathedral, how its silent shape has been a backdrop in my life and tomorrow I’ll be sitting there, waiting my turn to go up but my mind falters. It bounces back to Millenium Eve, and how my feet ached from the walk down from the top of town. My New Year’s Eve shoes, shoved into my bag, my flat pumps easing out my soles and we stood. We’d sat inside with the hundreds of others, on the left at front, in the cold. And under the silence of stone, in the wisdoms of those who’d sat there before us, we wrote notes. The huge tree with open arms flooded the space with pine scent and ushers collected up our words with all the others and then hung them on the tree. We sat watching the century end, linked with the warmth of strangers wishes and sent love and health to our unborn son.

Afterwards, outside there was a quieting, a murmuring hush of the crowd waiting for something to happen. And in the dark we hung around in the mizzle with our umbrellas and our smiles. The century slipped out, gentle, graceful and as the Millennium sauntered in with little fanfare, with a distant fizzle and sparkle of lights, the crowd laughed. We were there, before the big doors, heavy coats and deep pockets in the first seconds of the new year. There was no sense of anything having changed, just continuation and my tummy, swaddled inside my clothes, with a heartbeat we’d yet to hear.

And then I flip further back to the day before our wedding and your Mum, whisked away by my parents to wander around the Cathedral, to give me some time to prepare. And while I glued the last of the silk roses onto the name-cards, they walked over the slabs my feet will cross tomorrow. 

And now a text from our son, busy in town, having lunch and while they laugh and test out their wings, I see us at Christmas, at markets and our friend who will join me tomorrow, is there. She holds up our boy on the ice rink, it’s packed, it’s hot and cold at the same time and everyone smiles even the people who bruise your leg with their skates.

Inside the changing area we struggle to free him from the metal clasps, but our friend is an expert and she helps amongst the rucksacks and snow heavy socks and with damp ankles and wet trouser legs, we make our way to a cafe in town, under the twinkling and huddling, in the soothe of hot chocolate we sit around. And as I see our boy bookended by her sons, he wears a red and white top that wouldn’t fit him now – he texts me from the train, he’s heading home.

And home is where we’ll leave from tomorrow, like we did years ago. When I took our son’s hand and we marched down the high street, a few weeks before Christmas with the lanterns that we’d made. The delicate tissue paper tributes to a world, to a vivid place we couldn’t hold. And as the Cathedral loomed up nearer, I stood for the first time by the same railings, feeling the pull and tear of a parallel world. Someone took a photo of us for a tourism website, I can see it, me looking side on, almost a smile as some distant children’s creation bought a joyful moment in the pain. But I looked so drawn, so small and smaller than me then was our son, stood to my left, wearing a deep green wooly hat and a fluorescent snap circle around his neck. He’s almost hidden in the dark but I can see him, illuminated by the band of light around him. 

And tomorrow I have to go back there, I need to go back and I want to. But I’m so sodden like our snow caked socks, so heavy like the lantern pole to light our way, so full with the hidden times inside me. 

These moments that are lining up now, like I’ll line up tomorrow, each of them a story of how I came to be and as I sit in the silence of stone, as I wait my turn, I’ll feel the Cathedral fill up with us all – my children, my girls and the women they became. I have such a sense of being followed, of swathes of females on my path, tomorrow they will spread out, they will chatter, they will dance and there at the front of the Cathedral they will join me, invisible but vital, as I stand to shake a hand. 

Our son is on a detour now, sidetracked by other friends, off for a moment at his old school, to take time, see old teachers and look back as he looks ahead.
And I wonder about all the people who’ve ever sat in the Cathedral and their stories and tomorrow, amongst the narratives there is such joy. A sense of creating, of neurones firing and of an irresistible surge to force up, through the stone slabs – up, despite the granite all around.

I must go now, I need to try on my dress and stop and think of tea. Tomorrow will come and I’ll be there, flickering full of emotions like the candles we held at the beginning, when our baby was centimetres long. And we’ll all walk up together, all the moments playing out, dancing and darting behind the pillars, in between the guests they’ll shimmer unheard, unseen but present, all my women who belong.  

In our Cathedral with our son, with friends  and gratitude for the woman I’ve become.
October 20th 2017

It’s Friday morning, the sun is lost behind the clouds but the bluster seems to carry all the seconds of my life with me and in the fracturing light on the windscreen, in the dappling spots of bright, I’m on my way. 

Children walk to school, heads down, wet dogs on leads with mud caked paws and the chatter of girls as we wait in traffic. It’s the morning of October 20th – I feel like I’m coming home. 

Later

And I sat, I studied the ceiling, the intricacies of the build, the strength of the pillars and as I walked back from the stage with a quickened pulse, with a tremble as though I were made of miniature fireworks sparkling, the sunlight pooled in above us, casting diamonds up the wall. 

xxx

I graduated today – for my husband, in absentia, with love.

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

 

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February 27th

It feels like November today, any sniff of spring has been blown off course by these squally showers and as I watch the fields through the raindrops on these windows, I think of back then.

My boots still smell of the farm, the hay sodden around my low heels and I trudged. The grain made my eyes water as I followed through the mud to find the sheep. And here and there low murmurings, deep bleating and they huddled and bundled themselves up. The new lambs are still unsteady and they trample around their mother’s teats. Some shy away but most are interested in the presence of the strangers.

And I am such a stranger, I tiptoe through the sopping mud, it laps my boots, it cries out for wellies as I watch. The farmer says they’ve bought the sheep into the barn because the weather had turned bad. He apologised – as though he should have controlled the sun, as though lambs should only come out to the smell of fresh grass with the rays warming up their plastered down fur. They nuzzle, he points out the next one ready for labour and she stretches her neck out, she paces and pads the earth.

She has found her spot. Once they’ve chosen their place they will not move from it, he says and they nestle down. She sniffs at the new borns in the next pen, keen for her own and I watch.

The herd wander around with little plan, like my thoughts, like the mess of images in my head. They jostle for attention, compete for food as I think of my friend on her beach at the start of her journey and me and our son stepping out then, on ours. I remember writing words for the service while she spun in chaos far from home. And there we were, unknown to each other, on that day being birthed  from the safety of our respective worlds into a land we didn’t recognise, blinking on new straw.

There was something so brutal about the farmland today, so essential, the irresistible force to push on and out and I felt it in the bristle of the mother’s tongue, in the grasp of the farmer’s hand as he eased out more new life. There in front of me dazed and bewildered, finding its feet in this pulse of nature, as I think of my friend, as I think of my preparations back then.

Nature charging on regardless, relentless and driven.

 

February 28th

I’ve been watching the clouds again, how they’re pulled into a vortex to my right, the shadow trees were waving at me this morning as I passed by and now the rain is back. It’s dripping cold onto the farm pastures, the animals are inside and I arrange flowers back at home.

I bought alstroemerias, they look like tiny lilies and as I shuffle and tweak them in the vase, the rooks and the crows take flight, they cut up the air in such haphazard patterns. They look like they don’t know what they’re doing, absent minded winging on the winds but they’re guided by instinct, by nature and far away from them, in the warm, in our home  – so am I.

 

March 1st

There was a stillness down on the farm this morning. it wasn’t cold or warm, no biting wind or early rain, no spring sun, just a grey heavy cloud cover and a sense of the land waiting. The crows circled and landed, poked about and waddled in the mud, they’d found a puddle to drink from and gathered like old men at a wake, heads bowed, arms folded behind their backs and they nodded and paid their respects to the earth. They sipped and pecked around for food, then took off in a scattering, zig zaged black in my view and then the seagulls came in. They flew across in a broken badge, in a triangular twist with such purpose and I watched them pass by like my thoughts, like my feelings of back then.

I didn’t see the farmer today but his wife rushed out, their daughter was stuck in the mud, her truck revving up, going nowhere and she waved and laughed. I noticed her pony tail, hair scaped up for the day’s business and her practical clothes as she jumped from the cab, a round reinforced girl, fed from the land, unattached to the animals she raises and then eats. She didn’t mind being stuck, it happens and sooner or later you get out. She clambered back in the truck, plumped down on the the ripped leather seat and reversed out of the ditch.

Sometimes you have to go backwards before you can go forwards again.

xxx

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