Voice Of Conscience

 On Michaelmas Day, a scene from Entertaining Angels (unedited novel in long term abeyance).

 

Briefly:

Sibyl was born to mixed race Dubliners at the beginning of WW1. Whilst her mother was as Irish as Guinness, her father's folks hailed from nearer the equator and her features favoured theirs. At three years old, she was grief-stricken when his ship went down in the Atlantic. Her mother's betrayal in marrying a shell-shocked soldier in 1922, the year of Irish partition, and presenting her with a string of demanding half-brothers, caused more than a few episodes of malice. Grown up and married, she longed for a black baby, someone of her very own who was attuned to her visceral culture, but when Isabelle was born (ironically nicknamed 'Sable') she was as red-haired as any Celtic European. Sibyl was never truly able to bond with her. That the child was the product of a guilty secret only served to magnify resentment. Eventually, she even came to deny that she had a daughter. Sibyl spent the rest of her days as an arbiter of morality with a hotline to 'God' and a firm expectation of due reward in the Hereafter. In the following scene, after a crushing revelation of the adult Isabelle's emancipation, Sibyl has been rushed to A & E with a massive stroke. She has entered a state of consciousness where, as in ordinary life, she construes what is happening according to her own mythology. But truth has a way of piercing veils.

 

  

 

“You’ve been a long time coming!”

“The road was blocked,” said the Angel. “Now is the hour...”

“I’m being kept here in the waiting-room. Why can’t I see God?”

“You dare not look upon the countenance of God. That is my awful privilege.”

At this, Sibyl began to tremble. “But how shall I know where to find him? He could be anywhere by now!”

“He is anywhere...anywhere and everywhere.”

“Then I could go round in circles looking and only run into him by accident…if I’m lucky. It could take forever!”

“That is true,” said the Angel. “It would be impossible, but for one thing...”

“I don’t think I’m hearing this right,” interrupted Sibyl. “He’s supposed to be omniscient, he’ll know I’m looking for him, so why is he hidden? Why doesn’t he show himself?”

“Perhaps you have not recognised him. You wouldn’t be the first pilgrim to mistake him for a tyrant, or even a villain...”

“Of course, I’d recognise him!” said Sibyl with her own peculiar brand of scorn. “I am Saved. “

“No,” corrected the seraph, “you are being Saved.”

“He chose me himself!”

“What if I told you that he would choose everyone...?”

“I don’t believe that for a minute. The earth’s crawling with evildoers.”

“And some of them see his footprints in the dew of dawn, or hear his tread on the stony path behind them, and turn...”

“You mean, he is revealed to the likes of them, but not to me?”

The Angel smiled. “Congratulations! You have just taken your first step towards the twin virtues, humility and humanity...”

By now Sibyl was lost in a wilderness of incomprehension. “How can this possibly be? I have gone through hoops defending The Truth.”

“Did I not tell you,” the Angel reminded her, “that it would be impossible, save for one thing…?”

Sibyl braced herself. Surely nothing further could be asked of her after all she had suffered. Wasn’t it time for her starry diadem? “Tell me, then...”

“...that he loves his creation so dearly, he has taken pains to become incarnate so that you might catch a glimpse of him in the face of Samaritan and stranger, the beggar under the bridge, the child feeding swans at the water’s edge, the neighbour who encumbers himself with your burden... “

“Throop’s no saint!” interjected Sibyl. “I can vouch for that!”

“...your own next of kin...”

“Sable! She’s the bane of my life.”

Her name is Isabelle!"

“A trial to break anyone’s spirit, but not mine. I have stood firm. To discipline her is to try and push granite uphill.”

“The stone is your stone,” said the Angel, “the one you still behold gagging the jaws of Christ’s tomb...”

“You don’t understand,” Sibyl insisted. “Sable has been my cross...”

Her name is Isabelle,” the Angel repeated.

“She was given to me as a punishment for sin.”

The Angel’s eyes blazed. “And do you know God’s mind, that you judge this? No! The cross is your cross, built with laths from your own dead wood. God has looked for figs and lo! there are thorns, the thorns with which you have crowned yourself, a self-styled Empress. Only One is worthy to wear the Briar and he wears it in your stead.”

At this, Sibyl recoiled in terror, her face chalk-pale. What was this ghastly creature? Surely, no archangel despatched by God!

“Take heed,” warned the Angel, “repent of your Assumption, and you will be forgiven, for you know not what you do.”

“You’re not hearing me!” cried Sibyl. “I’ve already made amends for...for doing what I did. Since then, I’ve stuck to the narrow way through thick and thin.”

“You were in harness to your own dead weight that it abraded you sore. The Lord’s yoke is easy and his burden light...”

“You don’t know Isabelle! My daughter has absconded to the tents of the heathen.”

“In your book,” the Angel replied, “not in God’s Book. You do not allow for the glorious victory of the grand design. Your cosmos is a grain of sand whose bounds are your own bounds. You worship at the altar of your own image and petition God to do your bidding.”

“You forget, I have no truck with sinners whether they be my own flesh and blood or not. That’s how doggedly I have pursued righteousness. In my youth, I was blessed. The Spirit visited me.”

“Hark!” cried the Angel, “I hear echoes of thunder and drum, the clashing of swords between Michael and Lucifer.”

“It isn’t as though I haven’t slaved to give my daughter the chances I never had.”

“I knew you’d come to that,” said the Angel. “Yes, Sibyl, you have dispensed much energy in your elected cause. You have been unstinting in the prosecution of your goal. But did your soul ever magnify the Lord? When were you a prism through which God’s love might be revealed?”

“Well, if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is! You can’t mean all that sentimental flowery flummery!”

“There are no words,” said the Angel,” to describe the quintessence of Love, easier to tell what it is NOT. Love is fiery as a diamond pure. It is hard as ice and soft as snowflakes next a candle flame. It asks no questions, tells no untruth, and, always, it endures. God has no heart, no hands, but yours to bring earth back into the bosom of Heaven....”

“I’ve always tried to do what’s right.”

“Hark,” bade the Angel again, “I hear cymbal and gong. The sound is neither symphony nor euphony. It is the leper’s warning.”

“And another thing, I’ve saved every penny I could, gone short of luxuries and the everyday things most people take for granted....”

“To ‘go short’ is to spit in the face of Providence!”

“....and I’ve bequeathed it all to lepers in Africa.”

“Well and good,” replied the Angel. “Alas, you seem to have left God out of your will.”

This statement rendered Sibyl speechless with dismay. There had been an overarching error in heaven! How in God’s name was she going to make the Angel see that? Her everlasting destiny was at stake.

“Sibyl, I perceive no oil in your lamp. Who can admit you to the Wedding Feast?”

“But that’s because I’ve used it all up bearing my trials. Surely it speaks for itself.”

The Angel’s countenance was very grave and his beauty was beyond imagining. “To those who have, much is given, while the pinchfist starves everyone, including himself.”

“Now you’re talking in riddles...!“ accused Sibyl in a way which implied his whole testimony could be rubbished. “I’ve had a hard time of it, always doing for others... You’d think at my age you could put your feet up and be waited on for a change!”

“And what of the freight they have towed for you?”

“I’ve never put on anyone in my life! I’ve had to stand on my own two feet, I can tell you. It was others who leaned on me! There was Ma and...Saul...five brothers, Desmond Halloran at the shop, then Edwin and Isabelle...”

“Isabelle has been your face in the world and has borne the penalties, the recrimination, of your default. She has wrestled on your behalf with the issues you disdained. You have closed your eyes, your heart, your life, to the need on your own doorstep, and under your own eaves, to identify with the downtrodden native who has never been your neighbour and demands nothing of you, the person.”

“Edwin would have done the same. He went without a headstone so that Ethiopians could eat! He was as exasperated with Sable as I was. But then, he was pretty useless, needed to be fed his lines as well as his dinner at eight.”

“Edwin was a faithful husband. He provided you with a refuge, gave you a status, tolerated your carping tongue to the last, notwithstanding handicaps of his own. In his quest to console you, he neglected everything for the work that delivered your material wants. Sibyl, he died for you! He was the scapegoat whose passing furnished you with opportunities to repent.”

The Angel’s words fell like so many dead leaves upon sour clay. Sibyl shrank back into her shell. “Sometimes, I think he secretly cared for her more than I did...”

“A poignant irony,” said the Angel, “when your daughter was a living symbol of your transgression.”

“She’s no sort of daughter...”

“How could she be when, from infancy, she assumed a mother’s role to protect you from yourself. How can she give what you have already taken on account? You see, theft of the personality is a grievous matter that has consequences far into the future... Now she has a child of her own and who will refill the pitcher?“

Sibyl’s astonishment rapidly waned, for now the Angel’s message rang distant bells. “So often, I caught the vital spark of my own mother in her....and I had to stamp it out. Bridie betrayed the memory of Da...and lumbered herself with five children fathered by a scrap merchant.”

“None of it would matter,” said the Angel, “not one jot, if you had a loving heart. Every tear would be wiped, every offence swept away as part of the blundering history of mankind, but your lack of charity binds souls, holds everything in check. It makes a gruesome tableau of ephemeral scenes.”

“It isn’t my fault! She’s got a will of her own!”

“You hold the key, Sibyl. You have all the matriarchal power you could wish for, but it is of a less exalted kind than you conceived with your craving for an African child who would return to its mother’s keeping when its duty to the tribe was discharged.”

Sibyl, brought to the edge of tears, was beginning to sound petulant. “It was hard, very hard. Isabelle didn’t seem to belong to me. She was somebody else.”

“Isn’t everyone?” asked the seraph pointedly. “You have hidden in a corner peopled by figments of your own conceit. That way you never have to encounter who you really are. You are exempt from the strife of cultivating a sacred hospitality towards your fellow men and the risk of losing the version of self you have fostered into the bargain.”

“But I was right to distrust Sable!” insisted Sibyl. “She had ‘faulty’ stamped right through the middle like a stick of rock. Leading a double life, pretending to be who she wasn’t!”

Her name is Isabelle!” boomed the Angel, a swordflash in the very iris of his eye. “Nor was it her pretence. She was merely a caricature you scribbled on the page.”

“Never! I’m her mother; I can see through her.”

“Isabelle doubtless is imperfect, yet while you call her a prodigal, she breaks her precious jar of spikenard over the feet of Christ.”

“With two thirds of the world starving, that’s iniquitous, so it is!”

“Had you shown the milk of kindness, you would have been Queen of Isabelle’s heaven, as the Blessed Virgin is surely God’s.”

At that moment, it seemed to Sibyl that the Gates of Paradise slipped their bolts against her. She was swamped by despair erupting from the foundation of her being, stifling the labyrinthine corridors of the heart with fumes of sulphur and brimstone. “Have I punished my mother in Isabelle?” she wondered, stricken. “Have I played Judas to her Mary Magdalene?”

Ah Grace,” sighed the Angel, looking up to the sky in an attitude of prayer, “if it could only rain down upon you now. You were never good at accepting gifts, were you, Sibyl?”

 

 

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Book giveaway

http://www.bookgobbler.com/2017/09/24/free-book-the-golden-nightingale/

ERIC SAVOYARD, a police inspector whose marriage is on the verge of breaking, is called to a hostage scene. 
He frees the hostages, TOM and his grandchildren RACHEL and ALLAN, but, after an exchange of fire, the assailant manages to run away 
Later that very night, while walking out home from the police station, Eric meets again with Rachel and Allan but this time chased by two armed men.
Eric rescues the kids only to understand that they really run a great danger. He takes them to the police station to hand them to his superior LIEUTENANT BRANDY. 
Lieutenant Brandy starts asking the usual questions but the kids keep silent, saying nothing.
So Lieutenant Brandy decides then to keep the kids for the night.
Eric leaves the police station and drives home. 
When Eric stops at a red light, the kids pop up again, saying they escaped from the police station. 
Against all odds and under Rachel's supplication, Eric decides not to bring them back to the police station and although knowing it is risky, he takes the kids with him home. 
He learns that they come from FARMINGTON in NEW MEXICO, that their mother is dead and that their father left them.
Before disappearing, their mother gave them the nightingale, a mysterious Indian Navajo heirloom, but BURT TASMANY, a rich jeweler and a dangerous gangster, from Farmington, wants it badly.

Using information from the kids, he tries to find out the secret laying behind this weird bird but unexpectedly, this leads him to embark into a dangerous adventure whose stake are now, not only the kids, their grandpa and this golden nightingale, but his family as well. 

 

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Farm Reflections: Truth

Truth, honesty, I could throw justice in here as well ... words that stir memories of the opening credits to The Adventures of Superman.

Truth and honesty form the basis of creative nonfiction writing, and writing about the community that once existed on the Sewerage Farm at Werribee (the Farm) for more than 70 years. It’s a community that mostly disbanded from the Farm by 1974, with one remaining family leaving in 1980. And yet it’s a community that is still very much alive.

Truth can create speculation, however. What is true to one person may not be truth to another and could in fact be something entirely different. Take a football match of the early 1950s that women from the Farm played in that was recently discussed.

‘That’s Charlie in the middle,’ says MC.

‘No, it’s not,’ says MH. ‘That’s definitely not him.’

‘Yes, it is. Look at this other photo. It’s the same person.’

‘No, I don’t think you’re right. That’s not him.’

And on went the conversation. Yet the two discussing Charlie at this event of more than 60 years ago, were both there, both in the photo with Charlie.

Writing about life on the Farm involves various forms of investigation. Examining archival material to gather factual data is important, but at the core of this research is the capturing of the oral history. This is done by conducting interviews that can often extend over several hours and involve further questioning and talking.

People recollect memories that are discussed and captured as true stories. Truth can come unstuck here though because memories and recollections can be considered as subjective, with some believing they cannot be regarded as ‘truth’. They question, what is truth?

I’ll throw in some theory here where the creative nonfiction form of writing can be defined as a vehicle for telling true stories. Creative nonfiction is “true stories well told” (Gutkind, 2012).

Creative nonfiction allows for capturing the oral history of the Farm community through the exploration of complexities in events and people in full humanity. (Ricketson, 2014) Writing in this way provides an opportunity to explore and be curious, to discover what’s going on in the world. It can be a motivator to seek the ‘truth’.

Another story told recently is of the grocer from many years ago who made deliveries to households on the Farm. The grocer would take orders one day and return a few days later to make deliveries one household at a time. He’d never stay and move quickly from one place to the next, except for one home where he would stop for two or three hours.

He’d leave his horse and jinker loaded in goods outside and in that time, his horse would slowly make its way along the street while eating the grass. After a while, the local kids noticed this and the goodies in the unattended jinker and helped themselves to fruits, lollies and soft drinks.

Upon realising the missing, unpaid for goods, the driver soon stopped making his long house visits to Miss H.

L said to me before he told me the story, ‘Now this might be telling tales, but it’s the truth.’ It’s not only a truth in L’s eyes as he was there and saw it and was one of the kids doing the taking, it’s a truth as part of a life that is full of nuances, a true reflection of life in its full spectrum. It’s a truth expressed. 

Sometimes, truths take time to germinate in that vessel of trust, like the story of a head bobbing in the sewage as it flowed in the channel onto the Farm. Upon close inspection, it was realised the head belonged to a foetus, an aborted or miscarried baby. That story took some time to be told but once it was, unravelled further. It was found that many foetuses had flowed into the Farm in the sewage channel. These were aborted babies in a time where abortion was illegal and thrown into the sewer, along with miscarriages. Watermen would find these foetuses, haul them out and bury them on the Farm. These whispers took months to be spoken of and can now be confirmed as true stories.

Seeking the truth is fraught with considerations and dilemmas. There are truths that aren’t expressed, for fear of reprisal, being outed and embarrassed, and of repercussions or being held accountable or liable, or because of an inability to face the truth for whatever reasons … can they be considered an untruth? Perhaps a lie?

Recollections expressed as a ‘pure truth’ as distinctly remembered or even a twist on the truth that has slowly grown into a legendary tale over time, they’re easy to work with. A fabrication however, where a memory can't be recalled even though it has been well documented and in the public arena, that kind of 'non' recollection requires patience and persistence to carefully think through, investigate and discern, especially when it can impact other people.

Many recollections can be the only remaining truth in existence, to become the only truth. They can't be verified and sometimes capturing them can become a race against time, where people become unwell, too unwell to recall memories, and cease to live. I have arrived too late to speak to many who would have had a garden full of wonderful recollections to share if their memories and heart allowed.

Sometimes when the memories become so scattered and confused, only the heart knows the truth and miraculous things can happen. A stirring of the heart can shine a place of pure, unfiltered truth. It can emerge as a most glorious sunrise when us humans allow it.

Sharing truths, recollections and memories, can stir the heart and get people talking and asking questions. That’s got to be the silver lining in a project that has set out to document a social history.

 

NOTES

These reflections come from a PhD research project investigating a community that grew soon after the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was founded in 1891 to treat Melbourne’s sewage at Werribee. As Melbourne grew, so did the work force to manage the treatment of the sewage, and a community of workers and their families that lived on site. The population peaked to over 500 in the 1950s. All but one family left the township in 1974; the last family moved off site in 1980.

The plant continues to treat Melbourne’s sewage and is now known as Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant. The plant is about the size of the island of Santorini in Greece.

For more information on the project, please visit https://www.facebook.com/MMBWFarm

The Farm is a colloquial term for the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) at Werribee and now Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant, currently treating nearly 60 percent of Melbourne’s sewage.

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Changing Seasons

The corn fields are brown and soy beans are yellow. Our son-in-law Brian is already harvesting, and that means Mary Ellen too is busier than ever trying to help out as she keeps working hard at her own job. I will worry knowing their sleep will be shorter than ever.

Everything seems to be changing during this season. At the first of the month, we learned that our granddaughter Tara and family are moving back to Illinois as she became pitching coach at Illinois State up at Normal. This will place their family closer to her husband Bryan's parents too, so I'm sure they are happy as we are. (And Bryan will be closer to his firm's headquarters.)

For Gerry and Vickie, Tara's move wll take away the close geographic association with those three Archibald grandsons. That will be a tough adjustment, but it probably helps that they are overly busy themselves adjusting to changes of their own.

Our month started with Gerry and Vickie's quick visit over Labor Day weekend coming up for the surprise 80th birthday party for Vickie's mother. Gerry also needed to pick up some dogs he had bought in northern Illinois. Aidan and Payton both had baseball games, but since Maddux's fall soccer had not yet started, he was able to come with them. They drove all night to get here for a few hours sleep before the party. There was time, however, for Maddux and me to have a long grown-up conversation at the late breakfast table about their family's upcoming move. And besides getting to play with his Johnson family cousins, there was time for him to drive the Kubota and to play in the lime pile Gerald provides for the great grandsons' diggings. Since Nelly, the Boykin spaniel, was also with them, we enjoyed a couple of demonstrations of Nelly's enthusiastic expertise diving into the lake to swim and restrieve the ball she loved having Maddux throw out for her. Gerald went with Gerry to get the dogs upstate, and Vickie had the opportunity to visit again with her mother before another all-night drive back to College Station, where Gerry had to be on the softball field at A&M on Labor Day.

That Wednesday night Tara arrived after the long drive from Texas, and we had a brief visit before we all fell into bed. In her honor, I set my alarm to be sure I was up in time to make the morning smell good with cooked bacon for our breakfast before she left for the drive up to Illinois State's ball field and to start her search for housing for their family. The university was furnishing her a room until Bryan and the boys can join her this weekend.

We were still adjusting to that big family change when we got the word this week that Gerry had accepted a new job as hitting coach and recruiter down at Auburn University in Alabama. So he is in the process of moving dog stuff, trailers, and such to various destinations on the way down to Auburn after a quick visit with Vickie, Erin, and Caroline in Belton. Vickie will keep her plans to care for Caroline while Erin teaches, so I am sure this year will be filled with lots of trips between Belton and Auburn.

Our adult children are not the only ones who have been busy. Gerald continues bringing in garden produce, and he had his second cataract surgery last week. Mary Ellen wanted to be with us and drive us home, so we had a good visit and after-surgery breakfast with her at the neatest restaurant up at Thompsonville. It was good to hear how excited Brianna is with an observation class for young children learning to speak English. She will be student teaching next semester. Fortunately, Gerald's eye is healing faster than the first one, which gave us some concerns. (The optomist kept assuring him the eye was alright and that his meds may have caused the slowness.) He is down to two eyedrops a day again on this second recuperation.

However, during all this busyness with eye drops and garden produce, Gerald also had a big exciting project going. In order to get better Internet reception, he bought and assessbled a 70-foot tower out by his shop. Roy Walker's crew came with a boom truck to set the tower up on the concrete pad. We sat and cheered as the machine took it skyward. Our neighbor Scott even came over to admire that event. For Gerald perhaps the best part of this project was visits with his friend Roy where they talked and talked about their youthful days in Wolf Lake down in Union County. Both their fathers were in Woodman of the World Insurance Fratenity, and they shared many memories and old photographs of long ago acquaintances.

Katherine was pleased this week to see the letter from Sam's summer intern supervisor that came to her house–a very long letter critiquing in detail his successful first teaching experience this summer in Austin. It will be forwarded to Sam, but I made her a copy. As a former teacher of inner-city kids, Katherine understood just how valuable his work had been. Sam's girl friend had also phoned her about starting her student teaching this semester, so Katherine gets to stay involved as these two young adults change from the teens that used to hang out at her house into professionals prepared to make the lives of young people better. As a third generation teacher myself, I am pleased to see yet another generation preparing for this important work.

So the season is changing, and our lives are also changing in many ways . And that is way it is supposed to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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