The long and the short of it

Sunday 31 August 2008

I dreamt of my auntie and uncle the other night. They departed this mortal coil 10 and 12 years ago respectively but two nights ago there they were again. In my dream I offered to make us crepes with lemon juice and sugar. I went looking in the pantry but couldn't find any ingredients :(

I don't understand why some people leave when they do. It doesn't make any sense at all that a father would die three days before his only daughter's wedding. On the morning of her wedding, my darling cousin sat at the dining table of my parents, her eyes so red with crying that I can see them clearly in the photograph taken from 10 heartbreaking paces away. My auntie got to see her first grandchild, Alexander, before succumbing to the cancer that also took her husband two years prior. Neither of them got to see their second grandchild, Campbell, but my stubborn childlike hope is that one day they shall, that Andrea shall get to hold her parents in her arms again.

It feels so unfair that people should die in their early 60s. But then, death always seems unfair. Even my grandmother's, and yet she died three years later, on her 91st birthday. Took a look at the beautiful flower arrangement someone had sent her, said, "Oh, how lovely" (she was always an avid gardener), and promptly died. Very practical and efficient, in dying as well as living. My uncle fought his death all the way through. I saw him, yellow with jaundice, in the hospital and knew that the D word would not be spoken of out loud. He didn't want to go. My auntie, following on his heels, went quicker, without a whimper, but perhaps with rather greater curiosity about what she would find. But who knows what people are thinking about their own death?

It's been a windy, rainy kind of day today. I felt a cold or some other invisible monster threatening my body when I awoke, sluggish, at lunchtime. From then on it's never been out of first gear and so today I got around in pyjamas till 6pm, drinking green tea, neem tea, black tea. For my late breakfast at 1pm I cooked the dreamed-of crepes, ate them with lemon juice and sugar, in the same fashion and from the same recipe that I have done since I was 10 or 11 years old, making an afternoon tea for my mum and dad of a Sunday afternoon. This morning I used Grandma's white glazed ceramic bowl and ate each crepe as they came out of the pan, fresh off the press, standing up, in some sort of passover homage, but much more akin to a communion. A communion with unseen ancestors. I hope if such things occur that they somehow shared in my eating in their honour. Did they yearn to taste what I was tasting? Did the yellow of the lemons shine brighter for them now that they can't pick them up in their hands, run their fingers over the smooth bumpiness, smell the bitter richness? Perhaps so; or yet again, perhaps they are wondering at my enjoyment of the colour yellow when the yellow they now see makes the yellow I experience some kind of beige. Who knows? When Sting was on the television earlier singing Elizabethan songs with lute accompaniment, everything seemed possible.

Yesterday I saw a man about a dog. The dog was Lester, and the man was George Schofield, animal chiropractor extraordinaire. We chugged out to Yuroke, and into his yard for the first time. This dog whisperer adjusted Lester - who in exchange bit him. Didn't pierce the skin, but bruised it, and goodness, it makes one feel guilty when your dog bites an 89 year old man. I should have known, and I should have muzzled him, but I thought it would be okay. He was rather gracious about it all but I still feel very guilty. It was my fault for not taking adequate precautions. Perhaps next time I go visit him I shall take him a small token of apology, this man who has framed photographs around his shed of happy dogs and their owners. My favourite: "To the only man who I will allow to play with my bum". Signed Bella the dachshund, who surely must require continual chiropractic, being forced by genetics and stupid human breeding to carry around a body completely too big for it's short little legs.

This man is 89 years old. On he goes, strong. Receiving people and their dogs from 10-4 six days a week. What a bloody inspiration he is. Passionate. As I get older, I am increasingly drawn to people who in latter years refuse to be confined by this childish society's conceptions of what it means to be old. Who refuse to be cloistered away because it upsets the deathfear of the rest of us who stubbornly think life is billboard life. Who have spent their life discovering what their passions are, refusing to give away their power to others, instead shoring up their own God-given themness. That inspires me. I read an article in The Big Issue last week, by someone in Beijing for the Olympics, about the large amounts of elderly Chinese she saw out in the parks, doing tai chi, exercising, keeping themselves young. Occupying public spaces without apology. Perhaps because they didn't have the shame level white Westerners carry, the shame of age, of lined skin, they don't hide themselves away.

I shall refuse to hide myself away. Shall dye my hair bright red, like the artist I saw on telly last week, a local woman, 70 years old with bright red hair.

How I wish I could have seen my auntie and uncle venture forth into their 70s and 80s. There seems no rhyme nor reason for the long and the short of our lives.

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