One Slow and Painful Learning
One Slow and Painful Learning
Note: The following extracts are from letters, dated 2003-2007, and 2012, addressed to a friend then living in Oxford.
So many brown butterflies: I have not seen so many in such a small area before. Twenty, thirty – I gave up counting as they fed on the newly opened and newly opening purple flowers of the patch of thistles at this fields’ edge, a meadow field of tall grasses, five or more in variety, whose two often wet small depressions are dry after the heat of this June, distinguished as those wet areas now are only by the different, courser, greener, grass flourishing there.
As I walked to this drying pond – trying to follow the Fox and Deer paths of trodden grass – with each step insects, disturbed, flew away. It is too hot to sit other than in the shade, so I squat down on the warm grass underneath the old leaning Willow tree as small well-spaced Cumulus clouds drift, quite slowly, below sky-blue, never seeming to break the flow of hot sunlight. Spiders, green, brown, black but mostly small, pass often itchingly over my arms, hands, while I wait amid the breezeless silence of this field whose old hedges are replete with spreading, tall, trees of Ash and Oak. There, down amid the forest of grass stalks, green, alien, insects – antennae twitching – climb, up, down, to no purpose I, their giant, know. Even the birds seem strangely quiet in this heat.
I wait, covered in seeds from grass, and there is sadness – a memory of a recent love, now lost; a memory of nights alone: of that last argument, with so many things still needing to be said so that I might redeem my mistakes of the past. But she – having weeks ago severed our connexion – will listen no more. And yet, here, I sense and know my smallness, aware as I am of things beyond my own limited life – beyond my personal feelings, dreams, hope of finding someone, of living happy in harmony, of dwelling together as our lives flow in closeness toward their natural end. For there is a horizon beyond the desire, the need, for the shared warmth of personal love – a horizon beginning here where, under Sun, small field meets vast sky to form but one beginning of one presencing, and where life flows, century upon century, upon, below, above the gift of this now increasingly wounded land.
I was wrong; not restrained enough. Too emotive in my love. I have no excuses, having unintentionally hurt through my persistence of love, my naive hope, a person whom I loved. Thus do I know I am not as enlightened as I wanted and want to believe. My love was a gift, created from the years of sadness, and yet its rejection can be, should be, the strange genesis of growth. Thus does the slow, painful, learning of this man – dwarfed by tree, sky, centuries, Sun – flow on. To where? Yet I am fortunate, to be here, in such a beautiful land, under a hot Sun which pleases and begins, even if so slowly, to heal one wound.
Nearby, in its forest of stalks, the small brown spider, web-waiting, brings to one end one life.
There is a lovely, simple, pleasure here in this field. Spring is most certainly here – in the meadow fields, seedlings of the late Spring flowers push up through the tufts of grass whose frost-bitten ends are joined by shoots of new growth. Already some flowers bloom in the grass: there, a Dandelion; there: almost two circles of Daisies. And, to compliment the calls and songs of other birds, the loud repeating call of the Parus major.
It is good to be here, with an unobstructed view of the sky, and I watch the clouds, borne as they are on a still cool breeze that begins to chill my hands, a little. But there is Sun, warm, when the altocumulus breaks. On the horizon in the North, beyond the tall old Oak, small Cumulus clouds drift toward the hills, ten miles distant. Thus am I again – for these moments – at peace with myself, this world, listening as I do to a large flock of Starlings who chatter among themselves in the trees across from the drainage ditch, there by the copse of Ash, Oak, and a few young Beech.
It has been a long journey, to reach here – sitting peaceful in a field, aware of the life that lives around me and of which I am but one small, causal, mortal part. A journey through many lands, cultures and faiths; through deserts, over hills and mountains; across seas and lakes; along rivers and many, many paths. A long journey which I do not even now know if it has ended, or even if all of me desires it to end. For yes there is peace, stillness, here, and I am briefly one, sitting, standing, leaning, and balanced between land, clouds and sky, knowing the sadness that kept me plodding on often against what seemed my own will. A sadness born of mistakes; of seeing, experiencing, causing, suffering, breaking down as that suffering did my own arrogance until the half-remembered often suppressed empathic truths came forcibly back, unable to be forgotten or covered-up again. No lies to save me.
Work, yes there must be work: toil enough to keep that balance. And work with these my hands, outdoors where lives the silence that I love as I feel the weather, changing, bringing thus an empathic living for me, in me, and for this life that lives around, emanating as it does in this grass, those trees, the clouds, the soil, the water, those flowers, the very sky itself.
But I fear for this world I have found – for fields such as this with their sights and sounds brought by their smallness bounded only by hedge and tree. For there is noise, around, encroaching; human-made, machine, noise; there is development, around, encroaching, destroying the life that is this life, this being, this living and this peace. And there is thus even more sadness, within me, because of such things.
So far – to find so little so great in its living. So far – to find so much being destroyed.
A time to reflect as I – tired from long days of manual work – sit in the garden watching the clouds clear to bring some warm Sun on this windy day of a coldish wind. On the horizon to the South: Cumulus clouds billowing up to herald more showers, and I, for a moment as a child again, watch a few cloud-faces change to disperse; as if the clouds are for that moment, just that one moment, a memory of a person who lived, once, on this Earth: reaching out to be remembered as they the cloud move as they are moved in their so-brief and new existence. The hedgerows are greening; the branches of trees coming into leaf, and life is renewed while I wait for the Swallows to return, here, to this Farm.
This is Life: in its purest truth devoid of the empathy-destroying, suffering-causing, abstractions that we humans have manufactured to blight this planet and so grievously injure our fecund still beautiful but now suffering Mother Earth who gives us, and who gave us, life. The brief warm Sun renews as it almost always does for me, and so – for this moment, this one moment – I am happy, again; feeling the measure of Meaning, of happiness, of joy itself; which is in a simple just-being, sans abstractions, sans thought, and beyond the dependency of, the addiction to, anger….. Here – the child, again; free to watch the bee bumble from flower to flower; free to feel a certain playful awe. Here, the concern with only what is seen, touched, known, smelt, in the immediacy of dwelling. There should be nothing more; nothing to wreck such simple being; nothing to bring the-suffering. But I, we, are stupid, weak, vain, addicted – and so in our failing repeat and repeat and repeat the same mistakes, and so cause and maintain the pain of our, of their, of other, suffering. Mea Culpa; Mea Culpa; Mea Maxima Culpa…
April 11th 2007
A wonderfully warm and sunny day with no clouds to cover the joy-bringing sky-blue. The Sun was warm even as it ascended, early, while I cycled rural lanes almost totally devoid of traffic because of being Sunday, and early. So pleasing, this simple joy of an English morning in late late Summer when I – tired from hours of work yesterday – leant against a fence to just-be in each slowly passing moment. Such peace, as if the measure of life was at last not only known but felt, lived, loved, when no human-made noise intrudes and one feels the strength, the giving, of the Sun; feels the growing that is in the fields, trees, bush, hedge, as if they are all – as they are – connected, parts of one living, growing, presence; one living-being, breathing… So much, so much so simply known and felt as warmth and the natural silence brings a sleepy calm and there is the brief-sleep of lying in warming welcoming grass before one awakes to feel all living-life knowing thus human-caused suffering for the blight, the stupidity, that it is.
To be, to let-be, to leave-alone is it seems an answer – and so I am slowly, so slowly, returned to my dwelling where now, three hours later, I sit on the grass in the garden feeling knowing my weakness of months years decades past. So I am haunted, here and again, where again the Swallows gather as they gather at this time of year: chirping to each other and preparing in some weeks to leave. Thus do they skim the fields, catching, eating, their food as the cycle of natural life upwardly repeats and a cooling breeze dims a little of the humid heat of the day, here in a greening part of a still-living England. Haunted, here and again – amid such joyful growing warmth – with, by, because of, her death; with by, because of, the multiplicity of my multitudes of suffering-causing and so stupid mistakes…
3rd of August 2006
Yesterday I sat by the narrow shallow stream five fields to the north of this farmhouse and saw there – for the first time – a newt, among the small fish, the Waterboatmen, the diving beetles, and the other stream life. This was where, some years earlier, I had sat for nearly an hour – pleased then with myself and my world of abstractions – until startled by a Stoat who seemed to effortlessly egress from the opposite hedge to so quickly swim or somehow cross the stream to so swiftly regain the cover of one more living growing nearby hedge.
No breeze, yesterday – only the warm warm air of late Spring as the Sun became filtered through high Cirrus cloud. No one – no humans – anywhere I could hear, see, smell; no sounds from machines.
So, life seemed, there, then, as it should be – as flies made the noise flies make as they fly free in warmth; as the birds in bush, hedge, tree, sang as they sing in the days of a late English Spring. This is how life is – how it should be, as it can be, for us; but we have lost the slow silence of rurally dwelling slowly peaceful connected by empathy; as I lost this connexion by the so many stupid years of my immoral striving for abstractions… There, yesterday, there lived again for me that connexion by such sitting amid such silence in such a warming Sun: brought perhaps, at the cost of Fran’s, and other people’s, life.
Why am I here? Why am I – I who over decades has caused so much suffering – still alive while they, as she my beloved Sue, who having harmed no one, are dead having been taken from us years, decades, too early; far too early. This, surely, is not fair…
But if there is some answer, some answers, I have been unable to find one, or any. So it is that I am still perplexed, fumbling about; prone to tears, in remembrance. Prone to music as if I may find some solace there. Prone to standing on windswept hills while stars brighten that dark sky above and crying, crying with that unvoiced almost desperate cry to those, any, out-there – above – who might in some way so deign to reply. Only and again to be alone – left alone, bereft – because it seems so unable to believe in that which He or She or they presume to provide me and us with some revelatory answers. Too arrogant still, perhaps, to accept what so many others so seem to have accepted century following century in answer to their, our, plaintive cries of sadness, pain, and grief.
Thus it is that there exists the slow walk back down to where this other world begins. And I, I a stranger, there. Too replete with memories, with feeling, guilt, remorse, to still laugh as they laugh; an alien treading the boards in some theatre where plays some play about the denizens of a planet its mortal inhabitants called Earth.
Thus it is that there is only the Time – the hope – of so living in some small way so as to not, ever again, cause such suffering however slight. To be that balance felt, within, when by Spring-warmed-Sun, the body freely breathed there where cityscape gave way to sea and one saw as if for the first time, again, those white billowing clouds that seemed to stretch to that horizon, beyond; filled as one was – came to be – with that sense of being only one wave only one wave on that ocean, below; travelling travelling from whence to where to be, become, only something – only some-thing – breaking once only – once only – upon some far distant shore, no one around to hear the sound as that wave there sighed, in ending.
No knots of presumption, no Thought; no barrier of pride. Only that living of moment to moment, when all that is is only all-that-is, and the eyes, seeing, the ears, hearing, are not the barrier that once they were when we too young, inexperienced, to know – or too set in our far more maturing ways – could not, dare not, un-entangle the knots that kept us bound to our feelings or our presumptions about ourselves and this, those others and our Earth. For the I, the we so different, so had to preen, to display, to-be, to keep ourselves strong, happy, replete, alive: some sense of I, of life, of purpose, to so guide us forth to that our next longed for or so dreaded and then hopefully unremembered tomorrow. Until: until that love came to so doubt yet free us, as when one early Winter’s morn we ventured forth within the coldsome dark to fastly cycle on icy snow-covered roads impelled far beyond any notion of safety of self to hand-deliver that letter, that one letter, that declared our then so seemingly hopeless hope of love…
Now – now and only because – there are memories; memories warming; and yes that slight, so personal, wordless answer: that this is all that there is or ever shall be: we, they, those moments, and such love as binds us, bound us, inspired us to break this our presumed Earth-bound finitude of life.
In loving memory of Sue, died 4th April 1993
Image credit: NASA-STS107 (Columbia) – Moon over the Atlantic Ocean