Meetings


At breakfast today, over mixed herbs and a light olive oil drizzle on tomato with scrambled eggs, most scrumptious and a lovely time, I wondered out loud where the last five years had gone to. Then, sixty months ago, we had camped by the River Tarn and then, on the 5th, we were in Bourges on one of the hottest days of the year. Yesterdays are out of reach now – although I can still feel the heat, close, doused by French wine, and only memories give them a shape. Like the one when I met the Buddha on the road. I won’t use since – it is such a big word and we use it loosely. So much has gone by. (Insert a since if you wish.) At the time it did not feel like a flash. Odd how now it does. Like the first twelves years of my life. I crammed in everything. Even waking up in the middle of the night, shivering. It was a cold Joburg night. My blankets fished out the window. After that I needed to sleep on the far side of the room, away from any face appearing in the window, not thinking for one moment of the person who needed the blankets more than me.


5th August, 2020


Whimper


On one of the last times he hit me, it did not hurt. I remember the room even – and the time in history. So very grandiose of me. The mind plays tricks but I seem to remember it was during the Six Day War. My brain works like this. Silly incidents at the time, in the context of an international life and death situation. He told me to bend over (how prosaic) – he was pretty cross – and then, with his slipper, beat me. It was a total joke and where I expected something more there was no pain at all. Of course, I yelped, clutched my backside and ran out of the room. It’s the theatre that counts on such occasions. I can’t tell the reason why I annoyed him so much, why I found myself in this position. Except, what I do remember, each party is satisfied, particularly the one who is the most deluded. Long out of touch, forgetful of the non-existent impact of a slipper. His glory days over. A bit like a whimper of a lashing instead.


Collisions


Colliding into granny was just the worst. I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was on a helter skelter move, a real dash and darned foolish, running in the house, what a stupid, stupid boy, down the corridor, and turned the corner. We both went flying. I am trying to remember if I was mortified. I’m sure I must have been but it was over half a century ago. Try as I might, all I can remember is the cutting, wounding disapproval. Similar to when ever I dropped a glass, but it must have been a lot worst than that. Fortunately, she survived. I was lucky there were no broken bones. You would have thought from my father’s reaction there had been a death. There was something other than that. Like a storm of shame gathered on the wind and comes back to me like it was yesterday. Cruel, menaced words. What will the family say.


Sinoia, Southern Rhodesia, 1968 – ish (now Chinoyi, Zimbabwe)


Unfinished beauty


On the exit from the Galleria dell’Accademia, having viewed the David, there are endless unfinished Michelangelo’s. Half made figures trapped nearly half a millennium in stone, with no means of escape, their beauty not yet formed. The hands that fashioned them, dust. The mind’s eye of the genius long gone. This has got me thinking. How the curators are happy to mark the exit with an array of incomplete marble – Michelangelo’s for Italy – but no one would think that it would be a good idea to do the same with a Lawrence or Austen. Unfinished lines, incomplete. The hands that fashioned them, ashes. Were they marble, they would be eye-catching, a shrine to immense possibilities. Darkness in dusty, incomplete manuscripts simply has no appeal.


Florence, Italy


Liminal space


I had left the walled city. I know it was the lure of the view from the nearby hill that drew me. The thought – to get some distance – had intoxicated me for a while. The climb up, just after the bridge, was steep, the pathway unsure of the direction I would take. Passed old stone houses and forgotten gardens, a few old men sitting on porches smoking and idly chatting, remembering their youthful summer days. There were hardly any people around, except for a couple of stray tourists. At one point, I thought I had hit a dead end but a hidden footpath took me to the brow. I launched – what a fancy word – across the threshold. Eyewitnesses suggested a stagger and, I suppose, they were right. One more lift and I was there at the top, emerging into the view, with the city below.


Indian Ocean Light


Sun-soaked, dazzled in the Indian Ocean light of being young, we stroll along the bleached sand, passed bronzed volley-ball players, whooping with delight. She asks where we are going. I say it’s hellandgone. She is from Down Under, misunderstands me, and thinks this a place. The bucket and spade brigade rock-pool-leap, giddy with the sight of gaudy-coloured darting-fish. The waves break in a call-roar, evoking a memory of when they have crashed in the same place countless times before the body-surfers ever tumbled onto this beach in splashed-laughter and the occasional wince. The sun dilates in the noon position.  Our salad days of baggy-shorted, long-haired youthfulness dance to the rhythm of the sing-song pulse of an endless forever.  A brief gasp and the sea draws us in and we are helpless. Another wave breaks and we giggle with a wide-eyed grin. Waves of pleasure carry us back to the beach and we body-surf until we are satisfied.


Durban Beachfront, adapted, entitled ‘In the Indian Ocean Light’. The original piece here.


Intruder


Although it is early, I am grateful for having woken. Woken from a lousy dream of a time a decade ago. It was about a falling out. I realise (again) that this has a sniff of post-traumatic stress. I don’t mean to sound dramatic and I am not. It was a big event. And this dreadful time loiters in the side alley of my memory. It is not pleasant – the dream has dredged up the past. Like it was yesterday. The big ‘they say’ suggests that dreaming is a de-cluttering. Well, they are wrong. I have woken and don’t feel at all like that. Like I feel deeply cluttered. Caught up in stuff not of my making and I should have simply walked away. I would now but then it did not cross my mind. The telling to you is reminding me that I learned a great deal about myself but it was an arduous journey, which sometimes returns. Hence the haunting dreams and the intensity of the trauma which seems so recent, it will not go away. Like an intruder in the night, bringing fear and loathing.


Not knowing

This has been re-worked from a piece I published in October, 2019. The line … It’s okay to have the don’t know mind and not know what is going to happen tomorrow … has been sorely tested these past few months


It will take several lifetimes to understand the mystery that is us, and even then, it is uncertain. Even if we travelled to the nearest star we would not know. Perhaps some kind of answer is closer than we think. (It usually is.) Looking out across the night autumn sunset, I could feel the mystery wrap itself up in wonder. The evening sky breaks the blue. Birds fly into it, wings of flight, skydive. The release of the clenched fist of the mind. It’s okay to have the don’t know mind and not know what is going to happen tomorrow. Like the wise man asked: how did you get into that body? Not knowing is difficult. But who ever learned anything when things were easy? The poet said that it is in the no longer knowing what to do, when there is sheer bafflement, then you will be fully employed. This is the invitation to mystery. In the darkness there is light. Here you can stop. Remind yourself of the beginner’s mind. Here there is a secret beauty. The possibilities of our indigenous nature. A seed awake.


Inspired by Wendell Berry, TS Eliot and most of all Jack Kornfield.


Beginner’s mind

Spring’s reputation, those darling buds, gets the better rap, its greening and quality of light, a seemingly easier gig.


It is the first leaves that fall in the autumn, colouring a new season and the end of something, a signal change. Long, bright-eyed days – evening light setting late in a harvest of delights, now turn to a beginning. This is how we should see our minds. Our first steps – our mother squeals with pride, a pride that we can now only imagine in the retelling. Our beginner’s mind is without memory – dare-devil outings sketched with possibility, perhaps secretly awkward at first, until we get our footing, giving ourselves high-fives from the ghost of a past. Spring’s reputation, those darling buds, gets the better rap, its greening and quality of light, a seemingly easier gig. Other beginnings, say an awakening, a different kind of budding, even turning a different corner, often surprise. What was, drifts out of sight. The beginner’s mind opens up views not seen before.


Resolutions


The climb up from Holywell beach, breathless, up the steep steps against the chalk cliffs. I had forgotten my age. The sun was gone but the light hung around for a bit. A lone canoeist scraped into the cold blue sea, some white horses keeping him company. Way out, far into the distance, white sails marked the returning yachts after a day’s fun out. We too had some fun out and enjoyed a chorizo stew and French bread, a real warm up act very much needed in a coldish breeze. Back to the climb up that got my attention: I was grateful for lungs, and resolved to go on other less steep hills to train for the next time.