From Another Year and a Day
I am old enough, at 52, to remember when letter writing was our main means of staying in contact with others. I grew up in a household with no telephone and before these heady days where an assortment of social media apps are available with a thumb-tap. A time where ‘thank-you’ letters were required. I can vividly recall sitting up at the top of the table in my Dad’s seat to fulfil the requirement under the watchful eyes of my Mam. I was young enough to have to use lined paper or have to draw faint guide lines to prevent my words sliding off the page in a slant. I have never quite mastered the skill of writing on unlined paper, not being one to give myself the time to pay enough heed to the image of the words as they spill out from me. A pencil would still be my preferred choice of writing instruments if I had my way. I prefer my handwriting in pencil.
I have a high regard for good penmanship: it is a thing of beauty. A good hand does stir a pique of envy from me but admiration and appreciation are my dominant responses. Letter writing, as I have aged, has long since ceased to be a chore. I love the writing and the receiving of letters. Letter writing is in itself an art form, an intimate sojourn on paper capturing the connections between the head, the heart and the pen. It matters not if the content is often of no real consequence at all. A letter is just a written chit chat, or at least mine are. Letters, like a lot of worthwhile things, do make a demand on one’s time but there is no rule that you have to start and finish one in one sitting or use the same pen, is there?
It is one of my regrets that I haven’t kept my lifetime of letters received. I have always held on to them for some considerable time but then, as required by the urgency of my younger years (moving houses and life stages) I felt I had to shed some of my life’s acquired paraphilia, let go and start anew. I wish I had afforded them more space in my suitcases and packing boxes. I wish I had asked the question ‘Will they bring you joy?’ I keep my letters now, tucked in books and journals and drawers, behind flower vases and in memento boxes. They get housed in the kitchen for some time after their arrival, for re-reading and continuing enjoyment and gradually find themselves into other nooks and crannies of our house. I see them with older eyes as the irreplaceable treasure that they are. I think nestled somewhere in the Cork Road, are the seven years’ worth of letters that I wrote to my Mam when I lived in London. She has, I think, most letters that have landed through her post box; a literary archive of the correspondence of her days. It turns out that on this one she has a much keener instinct than I. I can see her, engaged in the folding of her most recent epistle to John and inserting it as an unpaid-for passenger into the Munster Express paper that she wrapped in brown paper and secured with twine and sent on to him during a student’s summer in London.
As the third calendar year without John crept into existence and I marked with the dawning of New Year’s day: the actual three-year mark to the day since I last saw John, I was disappointed that I would be without my now-traditional way of acknowledging this ‘John Day‘ with my swimming for two. Our swamp of a garden doesn’t offer much shelter at the moment to sit and think and we think there could be alligators lurking in its thereabouts. So once again I have started exploring the nearest bit of our five kilometres, my beautiful bóithrín. Often the best things happen when moving: the head quietens, and the space evolves to hear one’s heart. So although there wasn’t a cormorant in sight on my laneway, or a fish jumping out of the water just in front of my eyes, John was there as always in my heart and I walked out some of the words of this letter to him, to be added to all the words I have written over the last 965 days, my words of love from me to him.
I’m not quite sure what to do with myself today. It is three years since I last saw your face, felt one of your legendary hugs, on a night when life was how it should be. All of us gathered in celebration, gathered back then when we were so sure of each other’s continuing existence as we took our leave of each other outside the Majestic Hotel, with our casual ‘See you later in the year’ sort of Goodbye. One thousand and ninety five days later how I envy that other self that was me. That three years have flown by on untethered gossamer flights of time is hard to reconcile with the many slow passing hours of grief. Time is certainly just a construct bearing little resemblance to the weight of the hours and the days and the weeks that I’ve counted in the time without you.
Today I don’t get to swim at the Guillamenes, and swim for two. I don’t get to seek solace in the skyline where between the sea and the sky I am certain of love. I don’t get the visceral reminders of you, my heart’s aperture open wide to other days when the sea water served an altogether different purpose and was not mine alone. I don’t get the water’s coldness numbing my body to a state of certainty that this is where I am meant to be in this moment. Not that this moment is the right moment, but it is the best place to inhabit this actual moment of love and life and death and yearning. So I have to find you where I find myself, among the hedgerows, the birch trees and the snow dusted mountains. I have to glimpse you, in the yellow gorse, the oak gall, and the waxy green holly now done with her berries. I have to let my feet quieten my mind, that resists the surges of grief and the waves that continue to wash over. I have to trust the sacred space I have created around and within me for you, post life to inhabit, a Tardis of a space. A Tardis of love.
I have to trust that again today and for the coming years’ tomorrows I can shape the space for love and grief, longing and your death into the living of my life. Missing you will be a life long occupation, it is part of who I am now. I will never stop wanting it to be other than it is. A complicated weave of breathing on, placing one foot in front of the other, one more stroke swam. Your absence will always be a but that rides on the coattails of joy, no longer extinguishing joy’s spark but ever present in the moment. Why or how can it be other?
So John, today as I walk, I am struck with the knowledge that neither sorrow or happiness are a betrayal of the living or the dead. I will put my heart together for today, so I can carry the sadness, the extent of which doesn’t change. I can carry it along with me, now able to shift its weight like a mother moving her child from hip to hip. I do not want to put it down but with its shifting weight I can see glimpses of you beyond your death. I can see you as I breathe more easily in my life and I will not allow each day’s passing to take you any further away from me. I will hold you in my many moments. I will hold you always with love.
With so much love