As I was busy yesterday, drinking hot water and lemon for stomach cramps and musing on the psychogeography of Wales — more on that later — my cell phone rang.
A young soft voice with a hybrid accent. My long-lost sister J, calling me to say that our father had had a stroke in Hawaii and was in a coma. I was very calm, as if somehow I had known this was coming. Rush of warmth towards my sister. But when I mentioned our other sister, there was petulance and ill-concealed rage. The sibling rivalry I never understood between them. I was preoccupied and trying to take in the news and about my father and stay present to this unknown sister on the phone.
Gave her my contact details and said I would be leaving for the UK. We said goodbye.
And then nothing, no follow-up emails with messages or information as promised. A very old pattern this. Drop a bombshell and then vanish. My family communicatiing as if in spasmodic bursts of distress with no continuity, seemingly unable to sustain the intimacy sought.
When Una came back I was in shock and very white and dazed. That awful flatness and numbing. But staying with the absence of feeling, having a sleep, drinking hot sweet tea in a large mug. My old friend Hamilton came around to say goodbye and talked about his tours to France in 1973 with the sports team of an agricultural college, his efforts to integrate sports in an age of grand apartheid. Smiling at him, and letting his anecdotes and sharp loving glances flow over me.
Then Una’s supper of specially chined rack of lamb. I ate a little and went off to bed early. Blessed by a fitful sleep, the steadying breathwork carrying me through. My father is not expected to live.
Life on life’s terms.
And I got up to a clear cloudless morning and am packing, retracing my journeys into what a friend has called the ‘fog-enshrouded island of our ancestors’. Recalling Iain Sinclair’s magnificent ramblings on Landor’s Tower and the deep crazed ley lines of Wales. The stories I so loved as a child to do with the Children of Lir, the connection to those who came from the sea. The white lady and fountains and red deer of the Mabinogion. Spells and transformations and years of exile or disguise or penance.
Place and the spirit of place. It cannot be anticipated, it must be undergone. The initiation, the quest, the entering into the strange sweet mystery of life in a Welsh spring with the chestnuts in flower and the threat of snow still on the Black Mountain.
So I wonder if I will glimpse the Green Man. I wonder about the spell of envy and regret between sisters who remain forever in thrall to a parent’s favouritism. I think about rivers of shad and deep wells and ash trees and the histories of the suffering mineworkers, the ancient truth-teling folklore meeting a post-modern Britain at war. Entering my own community of hope in the meetings I shall attend, the book lovers I shall encounter, the friendships and the learning whatever it is that might be there to learn.
When I travel I think of myself as a flaneur, a stroller, somebody who ambles and notices and absorbs the magic of what is all around, the darker undercurrents and the literary pilgrimages, the memories and stories of those I meet, reading up as I go, writing myself into the shared human journey, trudging the road of happy destiny; and trying to pay attention so that the deeper things might not escape me. Connecting and dreaming, living in reality that is not of my making but in part created by my participation. Passion and intelligence brought to the process of greening intuition, if I can only stay receptive and willing to undergo what changes must be wrought in myself and others.
The green spring and the unknown country, the gift of a very remarkable year. Mourning and renewal, hope for my father so far away on a Pacific island, the letting go. There is nothing to be done and yet there is always hope for reunion.