How do we find the rain? And what do we leave behind us so that we can come alive again. Certainly not the meals we have cooked, soup burned, successful dinners, chocolate cake – some maybe leave, have left, recipes from grandmas, mothers, friends that are made again, replicated out of love, greed, enjoyment. So – what do I leave? A series of written stuff that is not sorted, that is not edited or finalised and would be too difficult for anyone to sort out. Some people have my poems and may occasionally read them again.
I was sitting, among the head high flowers in the overgrown garden, and wondering about this. What is there tangible that might be thought of as a memorial, what do I want to celebrate as my leavings? Leavings in the fridge eventually get thrown out – too much effort, mould, faint distaste to make that strange effort of ‘using up’. I thought that I might not have changed many systems, that politics and disinterest would be likely to have wasted much of the work that I have done. But – and it is actually a big but – maybe the work I have done face to face with people may have made a small difference.
Did those men who said they had stopped beating their little pupils and learned to love them continue to spread the word; that love overcomes fear and that working together with children is real learning? Did they go on making small books from sheets of paper and hanging them on bushes and trees to make a library. Some teachers I worked with have influenced a lot of others. Iffat and her love of words and books and poems and songs and the way she inspires teachers and children – hers and mine lasting memories of good done maybe? The Institute of Learning continues in some form – Inyat Ali has his own school with many child focused creative activities. If only some people that I know have looked with more kindness and tenderness on the people they live and work with – well it will have been worthwhile.
I have so many good things in my head – and the mark of so many journeys in my body I suspect – dodgy hips and knees, bad feet, hurt shoulders may have their beginnings in some of those incredible journeys that I have been given the grace and happiness to make, the lungs still a bit heavy with pollution and desert dust. The roads winding by rivers through mountains the high peaks, snow in the crevasses, searching the broken clefts of high mountain as we flew in the helicopter to see if grazing animals, snow leopards, people, Osmana bin Laden were there. And not so wrong too about him – right next to where we stayed in the military camp with Iffat and Aamir and the children one time long ago. The way in which those high walls not only protect the women from the gaze of the passer-by but also the way they hide deeds and people who want to be hidden.
How strange that more familiar to me than my own home and country were the roads leading to places in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka. Anticipating meeting among so many others Mehr Dad, Iffat, long ago the poet faced educator , Buchi and Shanta, Doctor Rao. The prospect of meals too hot to eat but eaten with joy among friends. The new places that were so exciting to go to – my phrase that occurs so often in my writing – engaging with the eyes of women, strong women with work worn hands and wrinkled faces, breaking bread with them and trying to hear and understand their stories.
Maybe the problem is that my life has been so rich and different and articulated in so many different ways, that it isn’t possible to write it out simply and with grace and honesty. And how to honour and acknowledge the friends that I have collected and treasure, even now after many years, and the closest ones that I dread to lose and who I can share my heart with.
Here I am in this small bungalow on the top of the highest part of the ridge in rural Normandy– from a distance the wind turbines turn above the pines around the house. Frustrated by a failing body and occasionally failing mind – forgetting names and places mostly. I want to be able to walk without thinking about it under trees and through forests but I think that what I am left with is the memory of such things – forest, trees, rivers, hills, busy cities, slums, markets and walled houses and towns – so many places that resonate in my head and now is the time to try and put some of them down so that my family and others might be able to read at least about some of things and people I have seen and been part of. Then, again, the thought that this is very self-indulgent and what is it for? OK – think of it as Dumbledore’s cauldron of memories where you could draw out a thread and the film unspools of the event and happening in the past. It seems that this is what there is to do. I wish I could be more sure about how to do it!
‘Then I might know like water how to balance
the weight of hope against the light of patience
……which is the story of the falling rain
that raises to the light and falls again.’
Alice Oswald: Falling Awake 2016