We are in the midst of Samhain, Beltane, Halloween. In the mid-summer heat of Africa, the pumpkins are still swelling in the fields and the ancient rituals of Western Europe seem a little inapposite. My Mexican neighbours three streets away are making sugar skulls for the Day of the Dead and that should scare the local evangelicals silly.
Tonight Una and I will have a fire burning as we sit out under the olive trees with the stars burning like raw white-hot fires across the skies. She has had a number of severe angina attacks in recent weeks and wants to talk about what will happen if she dies suddenly. She doesn’t believe she will ever die, but that is our human nature, to live in denial and shy away from the more brutal truths. I don’t believe she will die but I am living in terror. We need to talk.
Love hurts. It is easier to live without it in so many ways. Somebody who relapsed sent me a heartbreaking but incoherent letter and has vanished into the ether. It is one thing to say I am powerless over myself around alcohol but quite another thing to live with the knowledge we are powerless over everyone else. Everyone else. My brother is drinking himself to death on a Hawaaian island, like some failed Gauguin on Tahaiti.
Or a wordless Robert Louis Stephenson: ‘Under the wide and starry sky/Dig the grave and let me lie’.
I only remember him as a child, tiny and scared, bullied into nonentity by my father. He was a small red-haired boy who cried to see hawks take smaller birds, would chase them with his bow and arrow.
Sobriety liberates us into relationship. All we tried to avoid while drunk. I look at others and have no way of not seeing what is happening. I live with my gross emotional immaturity, the disappointed peevish woman inwardly aged 27, her unlived life raging within me. My neighbours squabble with me. I have had my first sober love affair and known complete humiliating failure. I dream about him and in those dreams I am a small child offering myself like a wrapped present, handed back unopened.
But I stay sober and that makes all the difference. The habit of sobriety is all tenacity and amazement. For days and weeks, I just plod. Then the world cracks open and I gain insight into the lives of others, I feel compassion that extends way beyond pity, I let others into the hermetic circle, I break open and find joy. Friends hug me, the kindness of strangers leaves me wordless, the soil is pure rich loam under my fingers, I am grounded in the earth, putting down roots. I trust the process.
And little by little I enter into the Otherly, mystery, the giving up of self. With a dark moon and stars like white hot stars burning themselves out.