Reflected Universe

The second of two passages from Next Year In Jerusalem

 

Frustratingly, my eagerness for adventure was no measure of my ability to keep pace with the high spirits of the rest. Dr. Jennings had forbidden me to dance. At Christmas, I danced solo in the pantomime we put on for our patrons and almsgivers and a lady from the audience was so taken with my performance she offered to arrange proper tuition. Nadia, her name was, a gamin creature in red fox fur up to her ears, a real ballerina, Reverend Mother had emphasised, and a member of the Rambert company. “Such an honour, Angel. You are blessed.”

It was a fairytale come true. Little had I thought to become what I most longed to be! Undaunted by the discipline, I practised my steps morning and night. Madame Minoret at the ballet school was amazed by my progress. A natural, she had confirmed to Nadia, an empathetic dancer, whatever that meant. And Nadia had twinkled. “We shall see what we shall see,” she said.

But Dr. Jennings had come along and put a cold stopper upon my ribs and squinted down his aquiline nose and warned that the dancing must cease. All strenuous activity was to be avoided.

“A slight heart murmur,” he confided to Sister Agnes, relaxing his stethoscope. “Nothing to be unduly concerned about at this stage. However, we had better play safe. Eh, young lady?”

During the night, I went down with a fever. Dr. Jennings was summoned and diagnosed a severe attack of ‘flu. Alarm grew when I failed to respond to treatment. For two days and nights my condition did not abate and even in delirium my toes formed points under the covers. On the third day, the crisis passed. I surfaced, clearer-eyed, to a new world of textures, tastes and sounds. The acuity of my perception was startling. It was as though I had been recast in another mould. The calm relationship of objects, after the storm which had imparted a sinister meaning to them, moved within me a remote happiness. I found myself in the sick bay, in a large bed high off the disinfected linoleum, with Felicity Rag-Doll ailing beside me and a painted Tau Cross on one wall and the Sacred Heart of Jesus on another, inflamed and bleeding, and the Michelangelo Pietà on a third. Down the corridor, Mildred Semple was practising her piano pieces. I sat up and flung the blankets aside. But the second the floor touched cold to my foot, I remembered. How I pined for my lost freedom! It was torture not to be able to take flight and dance, like being a bird and having your wings clipped.

Life was never the same again. All I did involved undue effort. I tried not to give in but tired quickly. What I hated most of all was being left behind like the lame boy in The Pied Piper of Hamelin, forever shut out of the enchanted kingdom inside the mountain because he couldn’t keep pace.

In the garden, I looked on dispirited, while the hole dilated at my feet and my companions alighted on the rewards of their industry. Several blue glass beads were found, an old clay pipe, its bowl still intact, a tortoiseshell comb and a bun penny. As the afternoon wore on, we lost all track of time and place until we heard Sister Agnes calling us across the snow.

Thomas hitched his spectacles up to the bridge of his nose with his forefinger and consulted the position of the sun. “Right men! Pocket the booty! It’s a long trek back to base. Look lively, Novak, or you’ll be spending the night in an eighteen foot drift. Wolf-fodder, that’s what you’ll be!”

We followed him, our Wellington boots cutting a swathe through the smudged lawn. Already the snow on the terrace had melted. A thrush sang in the apple tree stippled with green. The conservatory threw back a pale sky splashed with flame. It was warm. The air smelled of spring and of picnics postponed, of an outing to the sea if we were lucky. Tomorrow all trace of snow would be gone.

It was as we were stamping our boots, about to file in, that a resounding thud drew our attention. A young blackbird had collided with the window and lay, a tumbled heap of feathers, on the path. I darted to his rescue, but it was too late! He fixed me meekly with his beady eye and lapsed, quivering, into stillness. I stretched out a finger and stroked his soft wings. He was as warm as my own flesh and blood, poor scrap, so deceived by the reflected universe. I couldn’t take it in. I fell on my knees and moaned and rocked to and fro and refused to be comforted. How could I bear such passive obedience to order?

That night, I had a nightmare about the hole in the garden and how it could be made good before Simms found out. I awoke, sobbing, to the recollection of yesterday and that precocious silence about which I could never speak.

 

Image courtesy of Carl Bovis

 

 

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The Coming of Dusk

"At times I believe that my feet have been set upon a road which I shall go on following, and that slowly the centre of gravity of my being will shift over from the world of day, from the domain of organizing and regulating universal powers, into the world of Imagination. Already now I feel, as when at the age of twenty I was going to a ball in the evening, that day is a space of time without meaning, and that it is with the coming of dusk, with the lighting of the first star and the first candle, that things will become what they really are, and will come forth to meet me."

Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), Shadows in the Grass

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Stop for a minute, or a week

Stop and smell the roses, so they say. Force the halt, cease all activity apart from the necessity to breathe. Even if only for a few minutes, although a week or two would be best. Give yourself that time to be and do whatever you’re guided to do, without question.  

Give yourself permission to not think and listen to what calls from inside. Feel that breath rise from your belly, imagine the pent-up of must-dos passing through parched lips into a vanquished place of no return.

Step off the doing and thinking treadmill and rest from what needs to be done for an hour, even 10 minutes a day will give the heart the freedom to do as it wills. Leave your phone, emails and all social media. Allow yourself to turn off from the crazy of the world, whether the cat crying at three or four in the morning to be let outside or the tantrum throwing adult wanting the red lollypop in the supermarket that one person holds, when a thousand red lollypops sit on the shelf.

Shut down from the tormenting anger spiked in the anguish of a river bed scorched in skeletal frailty, shelter from the spits of narcissistic demands of entitlement with no care for anyone but an ego self. Such darkness of malice hurts, especially when devoid of care or nurture.

Take a breath in the open air, even if clouds loom in grumbling grey and screams of me, me, me taunt a genial breeze. Wriggle your toes in the grass and feel the soft blades bend to your curve of step, appreciate the occasional stab from a broken twig or thorn from a weed as a reminder that without pain, we cannot know pleasure. Notice cars zooming by, and the occasional siren of urgency. Discern the hues of mauve and lilac tinging those pillows of brewing above.

Eat when you’re hungry and not according to the clock, play in the sand pit with your toddler or the foot beneath the table of the woman you want to lunch with, even if it’s to share a cheese sandwich by a lake.

Make love. Eat some more, the hommos in the fridge with Turkish bread or the goji berries coated in dark chocolate. Some say cold meat pies are best. Watch movies. Walk the dog and stroke the cat, allow them to sneak onto a bed for an afternoon nap. Lounge in your favourite leather chair and watch more movies. Doze, then read. Sip a slow brewed coffee dolloped in cream or a glass of wine or beer, or better yet, a Wild Thing cocktail swimming in passionfruit with a flaming cinnamon stick for stirring.

Take that sojourn from daily grind and do your nothing, whatever that is to you. Say no to the meeting you must have with him or negotiation you must have with her. Help that person you promised after you’ve had time to catch up with you. Give yourself the courtesy and good health of time. Talk to her or see him when you’re ready. You won’t burn at the stake or be stoned for ignoring a sulking demand.

It’s not a luxury to give this time to oneself, but a necessity to be in your nothing. It comes with a level of courage though, for what floods in when the weave of distractions slackens, can swirl in muddy torrents that whip into a whirlpool of lost swirl.

What to do when one stops doing what is supposed to be done can confuse day and night and merge thoughts of today and tomorrow to a mess of exhaustion. Legs can grow heavy and struggle to move, feet trip over a pavement of no undulation. Eyelids hang tired and ache in limp muscles and steadying in this whirlpool of lost takes every imaginable speck of strength.

Where to, what now, how can I … this is awful.

Yet among the birds continuing to chirp in varying trills to a background of murmuring traffic is the eye in the muddy torrent, where the muck settles and glimpses of love without judgment begin to flicker. That light and love grow and soon, the radiance of those that give and appreciate shine as stars that blind all that take with the insatiable intensity and selfish desire of a Vampire Bat, tearing blood vessels with its sharpest of teeth and sucking half its weight in blood without being noticed.

In that light is a care that comes without effort because it simply exists as an endless purity, sometimes bound in intrinsic fibres that can’t be explained, understood or denied. Surrendering to the heart to find the natural flow is all that matters. The head has no say.

Demands of work, children and family can mellow with time to be. Legs will gain their strength as you stroll through that moist grass in the backyard, the tips tickling between your toes. You’ll notice the single leaf falling from the plum tree in tune with the season and remember the sweetness of the first summer fruit. You’ll appreciate the time you’ve given yourself and ease into that groove of being. 

The washing machine goes quiet; time to put another load on and maybe make a cup of tea to have with a piece of chocolate-raspberry mud cake topped in luscious cream. Lunch. With a movie. And the tea should be peppermint, to make for a slightly healthier lunch.

To relish in the freedom of being and to understand that a few days of time to be yourself and not fulfil a string of obligations, is an unexpected gift.

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Be Secret and Exult

It is National Poetry Month here in the US, so I thought I would offer one from my favorites:

To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

By William Butler Yeats

Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honor bred, with one
Who were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors' eyes;
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

 

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Latest Comments

Nicholas Mackey The Butterfly of Memory
13 November 2018
Wow, Rosie, what an incredible comment to post and I marvel at the 'personal synchronicity' you desc...
Ken Hartke Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?
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Aspens have beautiful fall colors and snow-white bark that draws attention but they seem to have ano...
Stephen Evans Painting Sunsets
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Thank you! Wouldn't that be nice!
Rosy Cole Painting Sunsets
12 November 2018
Good luck with your launch. You deserve to be able to live off the proceeds! :-)
Rosy Cole The Butterfly of Memory
12 November 2018
By some quirk of coincidence, I was thinking about this kind of synchronicity the day you posted thi...

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