Nothing smells sweeter in this cold wet spring than flowers, paper narcissus, snowdrops, jasmine, rose, honeysuckle. Grey skies and silly white blossom everywhere, cascading down, shredded by rain, smelling wonderful.
So this is spring’s contradiction, my birthday month, a time of year to feel more alive than at any other time, and I am thinking about death. An obscure stomach ache that won’t go away. A little creature screaming in the night when taken by owl or caracal, no reason at all. Just something that is there with hands upheld, saying, deal with this.
Like so much these days, it comes out of meditation and my — can I call them prayers? — the focused time of holding others in my heart, sharing those long-deferred dreams and hopes, letting out the deeper voice of thankfulness. It could all have been so different.
The silent hour of meditation, breathwork, prayerfulness. Through the window I see the round pale moon chilling and whitening the skies at dawn, black leafless branches, the muted black outline of mountains crouching over the valley, what feels so absurdly anthropomorphic and atavistic all at once. As always, up long before dawn, the joy of these early mornings in a wet spring, the peace and quiet that opens up a new day.
And the warmth of the kitchen, soapy dishes in the sink, muddy paw prints near the door, wiping my hands on dishtowels and pouring myself a cup of Earl Grey tea, not bothering with the usual slice of lemon, the bathwater running next door, steam in the glow, a blue flame on the gas hob. In the background Satie playing, music rippling through lit rooms and out into the dark garden. This is the inexhaustibility and fullness of life: the copy of Walter Benjamin open on the kitchen table, the phone’s stylised ringtone, dogs barking at a cat or squirrel out in the road, in the study next door the seductive distractions of the Internet, also fullness but empty too, the insubstantiality of the day opening on routines and rituals, wholewheat sandwiches made with what? — tomato, canned tuna, cheese, slices of avocado pear. Reminders bouncing of walls, a shout from the room along the passage, bills to be paid, calls to be returned, kisses goodbye, the kettle whistling as it boils and clicking off, more curling steam – that all of this, the birds so loud and sweet in the trees, the sun edging up in the east, will come to an end , just like that.
That one of us will stand in the kitchen some morning and see only what is gone, what hardly remains of life’s busyness, the unmemorable dailyness of cooking, gardening, housekeeping, reading, writing, answering calls, opening and closing doors, the habits of loving and nurturing, unhealed old grudges and bitter hurts , stinging recollections of shame, grief, what cannot be undone, what has been forgiven and accepted, the plans for holidays, summer parties, planting schemes for the garden, new fictions — all of this suddenly turned to ashes, drained of meaning.
And I can say this, write it down, but not altogether believe it, death off somewhere like a dim flickering mirage, what happens to others, strangers. It hits me then, standing in the kitchen and drying my hands on a clean dish towel, that the housemate’s sister A has been dead for three months now: the house packed up or dismantled and sold, her clothes given to charity, the car sold, the life completely vanished except in the memories of her children, her sisters and brothers. That loved and cherished materiality in its entirety bundled up into cardboard boxes and garbage bags, so that rooms stand empty, the grass in the garden unmowed, this year’s swallows unnoticed. Not ever to hear her laugh again, no voice mail messages, the absence from her children’s lives, the grandchildren who will forget even her smile.
So hard these thoughts that flow up out of meditation, the hour of noticing that obliges me to look at the harder stuff, the realities of loss and losses to come, what has gone before, what slips between my fingers even as I page through recipes or butter toast, remember you are flesh and must die.