I have a traumatised hand! The doctor says the swelling is due to grief and trauma. No infection so no anti-biotics. Good grief, what a relief. Just a rather theatrical hand. How dramatic. In the past two weeks I rushed from the north to the south pole in a sardine tin, zig-zagging back, LA, Atlanta, LA – at least first I flew from the UK to NZ in an aeroplane, with special assistance taking me through. It was all a blur. An absurdly dizzying blur. My older brothers and sisters were there to collect me. The miniature airport in Napier, Art Deco capital of the world, small sunny city on the east coast of NZ’s north island. They tipped me into somebody's car and took me off to the celebration of a life – half of Napier seemed to be there.
A week followed which I spent in a virtual paradise of nature and bliss – heaven – up at the farm, soaking up sun, swimming, watching beautiful birds, listening to the tui and bellbirds sing, and burping sheep which rarely baa, drinking a little whiskey and wine and eating nothing but a few strawberries as juicy as plums, and oranges without segments like peaches.
I departed less than willingly for Atlanta in the US. Here I was surrounded by hundreds of scholars attending the annual International Society of Biblical Literature Conference. Big five star hotel, swimming pool – I swam and swam, absorbing the water, rolling, sliding, slipping across the surface, feeling it wash over me, love me unconditionally, simulating experience in the womb. Memories.
I wasn’t up to much, the conference was four days, I left on the sixth, but there were many I knew and old friends too. They reminded me why I was there. It was where I belonged, so I was told… It was warm. Finally I returned to the UK, supposedly to finish writing up my Ph.D. thesis – a chaotic model for the synoptic problem, a New Testament thing. Demonstrating the irrationality of the mythical document "Q". Body clock askew, it hasn’t stopped snowing or creating scary skatable ice. I do nothing but sleep all day, and night, and cry. I cry. Like a river that never ceases to flow. And crawl to the pool to be soothed with a swim. I’ve lost weight. I didn’t have enough to lose. Does it get easier? Is there hope, any light? It’s harder here, no distractions, no mountains or sea, or people – friends. What was my thesis? Does it really matter anymore? "Knuckle down, finish it. This will only take a week off your life." My big brothers and sisters. High achievers, all successful, doers. They all have families – they all have support. She had been determined, her best friend told me, that she was going to fly over and see me capped in my floppy claret Elizabethan cap...
But the celebration had been the funeral for my mother. My mother! My religious friends tell me I’m in their prayers. They want to help, it’s comforting. She hadn’t wanted a funeral: "a party will do". And no God stuff, she told me too. Or was it no Jesus? I’m not absolutely sure. You see, she lost her faith because of me. One day, a while ago, she took a peg out of her mouth and said in a casual way, as I helped her hang her washing outside: "When I woke up a couple of months ago, I’d had a revelation. I realised it wasn’t all true." I never realised how much she had believed when I used to tell her about my research in the history of religions and origins of spirituality...
She looked so peaceful, so beautiful. Wrapped in bright floral silks, saturated in flowers. In a wooden box. On her bed at home. I wanted to wake her up. She looked like she did when I used to visit and find her fallen asleep in the lazyboy chair. Book open nearby, television roaring, Emlyn asleep on her lap. Burmese cat, Emlyn – he was there now, by himself, asleep on her chair. Home… my backbone. Mum. Mary Elizabeth Fisher. Nee Rowley...
I grew up not believing in any gods. I wasn’t exactly an atheist but I wasn’t really agnostic either. I just couldn’t believe. "Who made us?" "God did", Mum said. "But who made God then?" I could never believe. That he was always there, never made enough sense. It reminded me of the night skies that kept me awake. I would gaze out the window watching them glisten, fade, brighten… mesmorised, dreaming, sometimes conceiving nightmares from the infinity of it all. Now I just bask in their glory, happy that they go on and on and on forever and ever. Amen, verily verily. She told me Old Testament stories, and told me about Jesus, a good man she said, but he didn’t really walk on water or change it into wine. And there are so many flavours in religious beliefs, and so many different religious cakes, far too many for any one cake to be right. But I was always interested, fascinated. And the more I learned the more sure I developed my own beliefs. My beliefs in beauty and wonder and art and imagination the wild emotional power of the sea. An addiction – my passionate affair with the sea. Waikaremoana, a lake, a 'sea of rippling waters', with birds, the bush, the perfectly pure, sensuously spiritual place to be...
We sang ‘Jerusalem’, her daughters got up and sang ‘Let it Be’, and Martin played the keyboards: Mother Mary, speaking words of wisdom…. I couldn’t sing – I couldn’t stand up with them you see. My legs wouldn’t move. The odd one, the last lost sheep, the youngest of the youngest of the youngest of the youngest of the youngest. Mum was the youngest of four generations, you see. All I could do was weep. A slide show with photos from cradle in the slums of Barrow in Furness, a ship building town, bombed heavily during the second world war so mum and her three sisters were evacuated to the countryside, through six children and life passion for the stage, to comfortably old and smiling behind her favourite food, chocolate… to the song ‘Remember’ from The Fantasticks, the musical she loved most.
Her six children, except for me ... so five, got up, one by one, and shared funny stories and other tales about mum, her grandchildren and friends did too. Mum had backed out the driveway and nearly hit a policeman the other day. He had pulled her up to ticket her, but she wound down her window and said ‘What’s the matter? I didn’t hit you did I?’ and drove away… She loved driving, her independence. She used to drive down the middle of the road – a bit fast, break back to slow, speed up, break – that’s how she goes. Terrifying. Wine flowed, people gathered in Mandy’s garden lit by solar lights glowing in trees and a big bonfire. I sat by the fire. There were millions of stars decorating the sky.
She was famous for renaming things, including her children. I expect we all have identity complexes. The fridge became the microwave, the airing cupboard became the piano. I was called Mar-man-pippa-nick-el-steffie but often was just called Pippa. Pippa got called Steffie, Elly got Mandy-eleanore, Nicholas got called Pippa-Martin and sometimes we just became the cats – Tigger, Gemima or Delilah… She was an artist – home was a gallery – she wrote stories and poems and read to us all ‘til we left home. From Winnie the Pooh to Captain Marryatt, Dickens and the Bronte sisters, and Flaubert, Dostovsky too, she knitted at the same time, in front of the fire in the winters. No telly. More time camping, picnicking and going to the beach.
She was a theatre director, an actor descended from a long line of thespians. The Irish Maguires from Fermanagh ... Thomas was hanged by the English in the 1798 rebellion and a many greats uncle Hugh had thirteen illegitimate children to the redhead round the corner because his wife was barren ... many lived on the stage while the others fought furiously. We're all orphans now... She sang, from a church choir to old Irish songs around the house. In the shower. There was always music in the house. A piano, a flute… Bach and Vivaldi. Dory Previn after the divorce when I was four – Lemon Haired Ladies, not that there were any though. She could recite a massive amount of things by heart. I used to think she knew everything. I did know she was always right. She was an encyclopedia of English history and a pedant for English grammar and pronunciation – she was a proof- reader for the local paper, an activity she continued well into retirement, declaring the paper declined rapidly. The editor agrees. He was there. She was remarkably incisive and sharp as a razor and had the most creatively witty sense of humour. She was the funniest person in the world. To me. She was my best friend. I could tell her anything, talk about silly stuff and serious stuff too - she talked alot about silly stuff to me. We were always laughing. That’s what I remember.
The following day a poem was found on top of the fridge. She had written it out recently and must have wanted it to be read - but it was missed:
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning to stay.
Remember me when no more day by day,
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while,
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave,
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile,
Than that you should remember and be sad