One oddly sunny day in Ireland, a handsome Irishman decided to take me to the seaside.
Opposed to grabbing my swimmers and sunscreen like an Aussie, we opt for raincoats and a tent and set off to the NorthWest sleepy seaside town of Portstewart.
After a long-conversation filled journey on the train and bus through Belfast and Coleraine, then on foot through the university grounds and down the long country road hand in hand toward the sea, we finally make it over the hill to the sun setting across the Atlantic. Finally my soul had made it once again to the sea. The ocean. The salty wind. And my feet could not wait to drown themselves in the water and feel the crunch of sand between my toes. So I scramble down the cliff impatiently to the icey cold water followed by this strange, hauntingly beautiful Irishman. As he holds my jacket and me, I hitch my skirt so the waves can wrap around my knees. The calm water pierces our legs and souls and breath and draws it slowly out into the ocean in one long stream. Somewhere far out it floats.
Love was never yet held by arms alone nor its mysteries constrained to forms or qualities. Like water in barren land it lies within our lives, ever by its unsolved formula awakening us to fuller freedom. ~ Ralph Fletcher Seymour 1903
Climbing back up the grassy hill to our shoes and belongings we sit together to warm our bodies as the wander in our eyes reflects the grey horizon and the vista of the land to our sides. One day very soon I was to leave this soul and head across the Atlantic to the other side, to Canada.
“But it’s just across the way,” we say and rest in the tired shoulders of our exquisite anguish. Our tragedy.
A grand archaic building protrudes from the hill to the right. “What is that?” I ask. “That there is the nunnery of Portstewart and if you stretch your eyes to the left can you see? That rooftop over those hills, that is the Monastry,” he explains. And so in our tired state this Irishman recites an ancient story it reminds him of. The tragic love story of Abelard and Heloise.
Back in the 13th century, Abelard a gifted and ambitious scholar from Brittany went to study under a great philosopher in Paris. Here he excelled in his work and was sent students from all over, one being the beautiful Heloise. They fell madly in love during their studies together and forgetting his ambitions within the church he wanted to marry. But after the discovery of their love and desires they were banished by Heloise’s uncle. They fled to the country where their child was born and Heloise finally yielded Abelard’s incessant yearning for marriage. Hoping to be forgiven they returned to the city but shame and punishment was bestowed on them and Abelard was sentenced to monastery life. In fear of his wife becoming another’s he demanded she also become an nun. Sixteen years passed of persecution and punishment before chance contact again through letters. This was the only survival of their love before both of their deaths and the letters some still say are the greatest love letters of all time.
We imagined ourselves, as we often do, as characters within this story in Portstewart. Imagining being cast away in love on opposite sides of the sea, as in a figurative sense we would be soon.
“But it won’t matter,” he says. “Because I’d just get in my boat and row to you.”
“And meet in the middle?”
“Yes. Lets meet in the middle of the ocean.”
This traces my memory to another story that this strange Irishman recited to me when we lay entangled in each other’s arms the night after we first met. The tragic Greek story of Orpheus and Eurydice.
In ancient Greek mythology Orpheus was a talented poet and lyre-playing musician. His up-most desire was to go down the underworld of Hades (hell) to retrieve his dead wife Eurydice. On the way down his enchanting music entranced the guards and he managed to convince them to let Eurydice return with him to the mortal world on Earth. However, there was one condition, that on their journey she would follow closely behind him but he was not to look back. If he did he would lose her and she would be stuck in Hades forever. But in a moment of weakness he forgets and turns around to see his beautiful wife. Immediately realising in despair what he had done, Eurydice disappears back down into the depths.
With this, he quite forgot the dread command, And turning, rooted to the spot did stand. He saw her following with silent grace, Her eyes on his retreating footsteps bent, A pang of anguish shot across his face, Reproach and sorrow in her eyes were blent ; He fain had clasped her, in a moment's space, She vanished from his sight, to banishment ; The pain, and anguish, in his bosom pent, Found strength at length to utter this lament. Ah ! why does fate delight to sever The bonds that love would fain entwine, That pleading face will haunt me ever, That turned away in grief divine.
So it got me thinking….
On we could go through the stories, through the Romeos and Juliets, through the Bonnie and Clydes, through the endless bookshelves of love and tragedy. Oh how our hearts and souls are drawn to the beauty through the pain. Which leads me to believe that maybe we cannot have one without the other. As all things (Alan Watts) they must reflect each other. As do our souls, as does black and white, as does heaviness and lightness, as do our eyes and the sea, as do you against me. With love always comes loss. They are one in the same. And as the stories continue to unfold through the generations like the waves to the shore we realise there are as many different shades and angles as spirits have lived in the mortal world. None more or less important than the one before or after it. Despite its plot, despite its characters, its beginning or its end, despite whether it actually makes it from ink to paper and is stored on the shelves of our libraries or whether it simply remains a silent memory in our hearts. We continue to dive in. Knowing the conditions. Knowing what’s a stake. Knowing the fear. Knowing the inevitable tragedy that is to come.
This is a long winded way of saying that as my head lay in the shoulders of this strange Irishman that day on the hills of the sleepy seaside town of Portstewart, I knew. I knew I had found my greatest of all tragedies.
But despite everything, in I would dive. Fearlessly. Into the ocean of it. Into the depths…
And we would use all of our strength to row our boats.
To meet in the middle.
Toronto, Canada October 16
‘So I will say farewell to all my yesterdays
Draw me a maze and I will run’
I am sitting outside a dimly lit cafe in Berlin. Red and yellow filters across the wooden benches. The Open Mic gig didn’t work out tonight so with beer in one hand and Orwell in the other I rest..
The smell of cigarette smoke and dim lighting reminds me of summer nights on Di and Jimmy’s front porch, Banksia Terrace.The same late night dream-like haze of a childhood memory.
Smells and whispers waft from the front verandah until curiosity gets the better of me. I sneak out to the voices and curl myself up on the cushion of the cane rocking chair and listen to by gone stories and drink my luke-warm milk. Eyes peek through the weathered brick pillars and green canvas blind to the quiet suburban street, sleeping soundly under the streetlights, the stale smell of the summer heat and the faint murmurs of mosquitoes and the city beyond the river. I stay until my eyes are droopy…
Do not follow me now
On a lonesome road to nowhere
I will find myself there
Take my hand and lead me to the promised land
Where love grows and falls beyond the tall walls we have built around each other.
Walking these streets of a town I don’t know
The rain is falling slow
Turning my tears to wine
Leaving songs behind
You will take my hand and we will dance until the morning time.
Don’t follow me now
Down this road
I don’t want to turn around to see your shadow
It will only break you
I will only break you.
The beautiful women with their hair falling down
Too many Juliets to steal your heart
In this land unknown
It is not me you want to know.
So do not follow me so
Into this night
I won’t turn around to catch your eye
Let me go into the darkness
It will only break me
You will only break me.