Friday, September 02, 2011

This week

This week, an old friend died.  Old in age, 88, and known to us for about 10 years, so reasonably old as a friend in terms of our time here in France.  His final illness was really very short, but he had been fading out in terms of presence and strength of spirit for quite a long time.  He had had a long, well-lived life, raised in Britain, then a very young fighter pilot in the Second World War, a teacher and professor of maths in Canada, before a late second marriage that took him travelling all over the word, brought him back to Europe, and presented him a whole new acquired family who loved him well.

He was a long-standing feature of our lives here, and his passing changes things, but not utterly; I can't say that either of us was close to him in any very deep or intimate way, he was simply a friendly, familiar and constant figure. In many ways his death it was all that it should be, at a good age with some time to prepare but without too much lingering.

Yet we are left troubled and miserable and out of sorts by it, in ways and for causes which are difficult to express here.

We came back from the funeral ready to start designing our own funeral services that very evening.  We drank quite a lot of wine instead.

This week I met the woman who is taking over from me in the teaching job that I have been doing for the last seven years.  It wasn't an enormous number of hours, but regular, we didn't need the money but it was useful, and it took me out into the world a bit and made me speak more demanding French than usual  and discuss and think about language and get up and project my voice and my personality and generally perform.  All of which was good for me.  But earlier this year, for a number of reasons, I decided I had reached the end of the road with it, and it was time to hand it over to someone else. 

My replacement is busy, businesslike, smart and competent and very easy to get on with.  We had a pleasant lunch together and a couple of hours flew by almost unnoticed.  I'm sure she'll do just fine.  I offloaded the heavy packs of books and tapes and cds and papers accrued over the years with the job, which I'd carried there in a straw shopping basket, and we went our separate ways, and I relished  the lightness of the nearly empty basket on my shoulders.  I bought myself a rhubarb sorbet in a cone (delicious) from one of the many chocolatiers which seem to be springing up in the French retail landscape - this one did ice cream too for the summer - and sat in a spongy bright green chair in the new shopping centre in St Brieuc, and felt genuinely quite celebratory.

This week, almost the same hour that our friend died, other much cherished, friends had their first, long-awaited grandchild.  The birth was difficult and the baby struggled, was put on a drip, lost weight, and suddenly the fate of an unknown infant in a far away city mattered more than I expected it to, because of the sorrows in the changing face of our friend when he told us of it, aside at the old man's funeral.  

But the child has picked up now, is feeding, will be well. 

This week I got to help choose the paper to go with my photo on  this book of poems from Finishing Line Press .  How fantastically cool is that?


This week turned into September.  Autumn.

Lay your shadows on the sundials,
and in the meadows let the winds go free

Death and birth, my occupation gone, a new decade ahead  Odd clenching sensations somewhere round the solar plexus - fear, excitement, longing, despair?  My equanimity, serenity, contentment, my hard-won detachment and distancing from too much intensity, from overwrought and messy feelings, seem imperilled by an unaccustomed rawness, and I'm not sure if I welcome this or not. 

This too...   


The Crow said...

You've been through a lot, haven't you? Heart-tugging stuff, eh? Were I there, and you permitted it, I would gather you in a hug, until you couldn't stand it anymore.

The images of the poppy pods are just right for this post, poignant without being melancholy, full of life-to-be even while representing a withering. They look like pieces of jewelry; old tarnished silver fobs. I like them, would love to have a bundle of them for a crystal vase. I find the notion of the contrast pleasing.

There is beauty in the plain, the dessicated, the sere, the dying and the disintegrating. These things, too, have an important place in life.

Good post, Lucy. Provokes much thinking; thank you.

zephyr said...

Oh, Lucy...
such a touching post.
i would love to sit or walk with you and chat...and yes, talk a bit, about the thoughts that rise to the surface while reading this. i think if and when we have that happy hour together, we won't have to articulate much about these things...because of these dear blogs, our hearts already know so we will, i think, look, listen, click our cameras and see the sky, poppies, and sea as "oldish", comfortable friends.

And, as Jon would say, "Awesome cool about your photo!"

marja-leena said...

Ah, these ups and downs of life - you write so touchingly of these and your sepia poppies are just perfect for this. Thank you again for all the joy, sadness and beauty offered here so freely. Wishing a brighter happier day as time moves on. Really it's all about time's march, isn't it?

Rosie said...

change can be frightening and exciting in equal measure. I shared your feeling of release when the new english teacher who is to take over my courses called me.(It is the person we suspected , by the way!)

Lucy said...

Thanks for your kind words, and I'm glad you like the poppies.

Reading back over this it seems to me a little histrionic and exaggerated, nothing is imperilled and there is no despair. One of the problems of such writing is it comes from the moment, and I am loath to elicit inappropriate sympathy for what are indeed, simply the ups and downs of life.

The other problem is that as this blog is open and not anonymous, occasionally people from the sphere of real life I might be writing about do read it, and I feel I have to be a bit circumspect and discrete, which can come across as elliptical and over-dramatic.

In fact I have quite a strong hope bordering on faith that good things are just over the horizon, and always consider myself blessed. I suppose I sometimes fear I might be keeping them over the horizon instead of living them now...

Thank you again, though, for your kindness.

Barrett Bonden said...

All that clenching stuff: I was going to suggest it sounds like the totally unexpected byproducts of getting old, but you're not old at all. Back then I had another decade of improved ski-ing in front of me. What I wasn't prepared for, post-seventy, was a rapidly increasing inability to deal with stress at levels I would once have pooh-poohed at.

As to being histrionic, is it true or not? That's really all that matters. Being depressed, feeling vulnerable are experiences that demand tightly controlled - and much revised - writing and the likelihood of getting it not quite right is very strong. Leading to further dissatisfaction. But as you can see most people respond as human beings rather than literary critics and the defects get swept away in sympathy.

I'm not a great quoter of WVs but I am transfixed by the one lurking beneath what I'm writing: boxian. An adjective that speaks to me with great insistence: is this comment up to boxian standards? Switching to the noun, am I worthy to be called a boxian? Is clenching the new boxian? Seems I've come to the right place.

Plutarch said...

Just recently I find that repetition with variations or even without it is appealing. The poppies in black and white or is it sepia make me want to see more images of the sort, coming up again and again, at random.

zephyr said...

i did not think there was any histrionics, Lucy...nor exaggeration. i feel it's a touching, sensitive post i can relate to on many levels.

HLiza said...

I felt what you feel when my most beloved aunt passed away about this time last year. I was involved from the moment she was barely breathing, then she puffed her last breath till the part when her body was cleansed for burial..I witnessed them all. That left me mentally preparing myself that I will be time will come anytime, just like anybody else in the world. And I realised I'm not afraid of death anymore.

Talking about the baby's arrival..we just realised too after visiting my FIL's grave recently that exactly 25 years after he died, my son was if somebody wants us to keep remembering him even after he's gone for so long.

Life's ironic, isn't it? Hope you guys feel they goes on.

Jean said...

The photos, although grave in tone, are so beautiful, which somehow seems to me to bode very well for all of it.

And another reason I must buy that forthcoming book of poems...

Lucy said...

Thanks again.

BB - boxian, I like it... :~)

Joe - I like sepia, but don't often find a reason to use it.

Zephyr - sorry, I wasn't meaning to dismiss or rubbish your response, which honours me. Thank you.

Hliza - that was beautiful, thanks.

Jean - there are very good reasons to buy Teresa's book, if her past ones are anything to go by. having my photo on it is the icing on the cake!

Mouse said...

so much change can make a person feel disorientated and giddy. Like you've spun round once too often and your head is in the wrong place

but yes, life goes forward and change is inevitable and usually, in my experience, for the better

Rouchswalwe said...

Yes, I am struck that much of life seems to load the heart with a troubled heaviness and use twists and turns to force decisions. You make use of wine and sorbet where I would reach for a craft-brewed ale. Uff, do I understand you when you write about the good-bye to your job. The important thing in my eyes is to drink the wine or the ale together with a loved one. I thank my lucky stars that I have friends with whom I can talk about death and birth and the vagaries of daily life. Congratulations on the book photos! The poppies seem to be deep in conversation, perfect for a book of poetry. Hurrah Lucy!

Lucas said...

Hi Lucy
I feel like a rare and minor commet in the starscape of commentators, as I know I come round only rarely.
I just wanted to say there is so much I can appreciate and relate to in this post - especially as a recently retired teacher saying a fond goodbye to all the accoutrements of lessons and lesson-planning and memories of faces and voices.
I aslo love the sculptural poppies: such a beautiful and complex set of images.
Happy retirement!

marly youmans said...

Those little jars of poppy, packed with sleep: mournful but suited...

So often deaths and births come close together. I can remember taking babies to funerals, and how after an old woman's funeral it seemed so right for people to gather around the little flame of life that is a newborn, the dead woman's great-grandchild.

Pax tecum, Lucy.

Crafty Green Poet said...

birth, death, the changing of lives and the changing of the seasons. You're right to express your feelings as you feel them while at the same time trying not to upset others

HKatz said...

Death and birth, my occupation gone, a new decade ahead Odd clenching sensations somewhere round the solar plexus - fear, excitement, longing, despair?

It can feel like the whole world is rocking around us. Writing helps to work things out. We can live only in the moment, and even if we look back and with some added perspective perceive exaggeration - that's what it was like at the moment. Best to ride the feelings out, write them out too, and then it's a new day. Wine and sorbet are handy for life's ups and downs too :)

Anne said...

This post about your 88 year old friend was almost too close for comfort. Beautifully written as always. The poppy seed pods are wonderful structures. I have collected a large jar full of seeds from mine.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

It's hard to witness those ahead of us in the queue as they plummet into the abyss toward which we all move. These are winter thoughts, and I think that when change occurs as we gird our loins for the long dark months ahead, it has more power to unsettle.

My dad visited us in Cardiff and brought a box of things he wanted us to have. A watch, some old coins, a bit of this and that. I thought he was having a clean-out and put them aside to deal with when I had more time. Just a few months later he was dead, and afterwards I realised that his arrival-with-gifts had been a part of his tying up of loose ends because he'd felt the coming of his demise. Yesterday a much-loved elderly friend arrived here with a box of significant treasures, and my heart clenches because I fear the message encoded in the gift.

You write beautifully about change. I'm a decade ahead of you, and I can say that such feelings intensify with time. But then again I prefer the bitter-sweet of good chocolate to the cloying sweetness of confectionary, and one of the bonuses of aging is that every pleasure is the better for the sense that such things are temporal, and one must 'be in the moment' and enjoy experiences to fullest as they may not happen again. All through the three months of my retrospective exhibition I tried to impress every last detail of the experience into my memory, because there cannot be another such exhibition for ten, fifteen, perhaps even twenty years. Ergo I may never live to see another retrospective. That wintry thought brought each part of the summer into sharp relief and intensified the flavours. I've never felt quite that way before, and it's both wonderful and a tad unnerving.

The poppies are lovely. Dead to all intents and purposes, but packed with thousands of seeds with the potential for renewal. A good analogy for existence, with the seeds within representing our deeds, our ideas and whatever we manage to leave behind that will have the power to continue contributing. Many leave children, but I shall be leaving art. Wintry thoughts indeed, yet oddly comforting once I get used to the fact... if ever one can... that the abyss looks a damned sight closer than it once did!

Lucy said...

Thank you all of you for such lovely, eloquent, thoughtful comments. I am fortunate to have such good friends.