I am sitting here in southern England in the safety of all of what that means, and I remember other mornings, in other places where I was awake in the wee hours. The place was a kind of isolation in the middle of the bush, on top of a high hill. Fortunately not that many early risings, really, when I count up. Roused to sentry duty. To listen to the sounds of an approach of danger. To hear the crackle on the radio. Everything, like the wind of the brush of the tree on the corrugated iron roof, was exaggerated. I imagined that, at any moment, we would be assailed by the stutter of bullets from the other soldiers who, looking back, were not the enemy really but fellow countrymen who thought that they had no choice. Then, my thoughts were not like that – no thoughts of their humanity, but only thoughts of terror, that this could be it. At any moment.
I have been, just this minute, surprised by joy. A butterfly came visiting and stayed around, for at least two minutes, captivating me, mesmerising me with something akin to the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Okay, in its repertoire not as graceful as that – but – in its pure wildness, greeting me, and holding back for a while longer; a linger in a beautiful circling of the garden which had become its amphitheatre of delight. The visit reminded me to go out of myself for a moment, in wonder.
The distance crossed brings me to only one place. I think love saves us. It draws us out and pulls us near. It speaks to us across time and space. It is there in our need. The wise consideration, aware of our suffering – like when the poet says we do not have to walk on our knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. It is in the place of giving that we receive. It calls us down from high rise ledges; it talks us out of roads we want to take. It walks us home when our serotonin is hung out to dry. It is in place at the window, where a butterfly visits. Love warms us up, sunning us, as we tube on rivers. It’s the laughter in the love. It saves us from ourselves, quickly bloated on thinking we are always right. It’s the smile in the love in the growing morning light. The familiar voice on the phone is the homecoming.
Early morning awakenings now into their fourth week. The news on the world service is the bleakest I have ever heard. This long haul flight is on no Dreamliner to exotica. It has no path as yet, no route plotted, just a lengthy sojourn of pre-dawn thoughts. Yet we are the lucky ones, walking distance to the wide open spaces. We can zig zag across empty roads for the social distance. There is another dawning. Somehow I need to find a light out of this. Courage is not the absence of fear. This was the morning that it returned to me. Healing is coming to terms with the way things are. That I am not able to fix this thing. It is a struggle of a life time but every experience somehow – not sure how – has to be special. Like you cannot see your life through a straw where there is no hope.
The day hangs heavy, even in the wind. Time is now a daily motion. A Christmas quietness without killing a turkey. After the sunlight days of early April, the sky is coloured with smudged white, low overhead. The talk is of the unlock – giving false hope – but this virus is patient and a nasty piece of work. Nothing has changed and everything has changed: this is an axial moment for our species. The end of human warmth, now seen as lethal. The hug, the hand clasp endangered, like us. A forgotten memory of crowded spaces, farewell to the last embrace and peace of mind.
Another early morning, before the light, and I am awake. My solace is tea. Thoughts I have ventured down and travelled into, steer me on a course that I want to now reverse. Like you are on a road and there is no turning space and, if there was, a ditch may catch your wheel. I find breathing helps to return and slow the pulse rate. The moon in the kitchen window throws a presence that has watched over my countless grandmothers who no doubt woke in the night, fretting. Their presence stills me and before the sun arrives, they bring a hush into the room.
Every day feels like a Sunday. The week merges into a lazy rhythm and a daily constitutional. Days of distance hum along in the mind’s eye, a new quietness settles on the earth. Birdsong amplifies on the winged flight, vapour trails grounded. April sunshine warms us, at last, after the cold of the long, wet spring. The menace takes up acres of print, the news is everywhere, and only Amy Whitehouse playing on the radio distracts, granting us another kind of merciful light.
The don’t know mind I thought was something with which, in a Zen moment, I could simply come to terms with. Instead I am finding that this is knotted to something hugely messier and chaotic. Like that highway I was telling you about. It’s kind of full of people and carts and a dusty, parched road. I am looking for shelter from it, if you really want to know. A resting place for the mind, away from the crowd of thoughts, making for the don’t know.