9 December 2020. Day 254 in the time of coronavirus and as Christmas approaches I find my mother is on my mind. I think of her most days, hear her voice sometimes saying ‘Hold firm, Deborah. Hold firm’. Recently I’ve begun to realise that she isn’t gone, that she is here, within me, that much of who she was, her teachings and values are somehow manifest in me as I carry on without her. Often with my grandchildren I have a sense of channelling the love of my mother and her mother before her, passing on their love, the sheer unconditionality of it to Remy and Sage, the loves and lights of my life.
But there are days when I long to have my mother back here on earth, and most especially in the time of Covid-19. I want to sit with her again, absorbing her steady influence while watching the tall Liquid Amber beyond the rest home window, lit up like fire on an autumnal afternoon, not needing to say anything, just breathing it in together, sighing at its beauty. I am there now in my mind’s eye acknowledging her stillness, her focus. It was like that towards the end. Sitting together in silence, my hand holding hers, in the midst of my whirlwind visits to Christchurch.
I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned in the time of coronavirus? It occurs to me that the period in freeze-frame offered an opportunity to discover what was really important. In the silence of lockdown, no traffic swishing on the road, no planes droning overhead, no background chatter and buzz, just the birds chorusing, their calls reverberating in the quiet, and with yards of time to think and reflect a space opened to ask the big questions: What do I need to live by? Who matters, who to keep close, who not to? How important is the work? Really? Is this enough? For many artists and writers lockdowns offered a time to reclaim our creative inclinations without pressure of deadlines and to quietly intensify the practice. For me the regular journalling, posting each entry on Facebook late at night, helped me sharpen my process, to crystallise ideas faster, to write and edit quickly and not dither over the implications of the writing going public — Can I really write that? Will I sound like a fool? Be labelled a navel gazer etc, etc? No, it was just me writing out of uncertainty and fear, naming my experience and then cobbling it together late at night and pushing the post button before there was time for second thoughts. I really value that experience now for what it taught me about the craft.
And what else? Possibly being in lockdown showed me what I need to get by on. I know I need a home, I learned that through the eighteen months of my nomadic wanderings. I need my family to love and be loved by. Growing up on a farm on the Canterbury Plains, with its expansive views to the Southern Alps on one horizon and the folding forms of the Port Hills on the other it has always been this way, I cannot do without the presence of Nature in my life. I need it in order to breathe. I need to see the tides washing in and washing out, weather passing over its squalls and mists blurring the panorama, sunlight turning the crimson blooms of the pohutukawa a deeper shade of carmine, the rainbows, the sunbursts… I need the sound of the wind shrieking on wild nights and birdsong on calmer days, and most especially I need to watch the swallows who nest in my eaves, swooping like origami darts to alight on the railing beside my kitchen table, the indigo iridescence on their wings catching the light and glinting. I think I need the seagulls too, sometimes dismissed as scavengers, and squawkers, yet when they soar and tilt around my apartment windows, their pale white alabaster bodies twirling in the round against a bright white sky, tone on tone, they are dancers in the air and very beautiful...
I need my son in Sydney staying true to his creative dream through the uncertainties of coronavirus and staying safe, please, until we can be reunited. Will it be next year? Please, again. Then we will hug and I will breathe in his familiar smell, admire the kink and texture of his wavy hair, notice the light on his iris bringing out the pale sea-green in his eyes, experience that quirky grin... Then I will feel complete.
And my grandchildren; five month old Sage sleeping on her tummy on the cot mattress in my study, waking and lifting her head, that orb of pale skin and fine hair turning, flopping down again. And 3 ½ year old Remy answering my question, ‘What would you like for Christmas?’ Um, I’d like a ‘My Little Pony’ book but we don’t just get presents from Santa, we have to give presents to other people,’ he says and then that wandering mind, ‘One night,’ pause, ‘One day-night I saw Santa out my window with Mama and Dada but Sage didn’t join in. And Santa had some candy in his sleigh.' A change of voice ‘What a silly thing to do.’ Pause. Another thought. ‘But I haven’t got a chimney for Santa,’ face screwed up in concern. ‘What will he do?’ I ask. ‘He will have to go to Grandma and GG’s and take the presents down their chimney.’ A change of topic. ‘This is a crown,’ he says suddenly, showing me his chewy muesli bar made by his mother, ‘this is a bite in a crown.’ And it was a perfect crown with the points. And then that keen, roving mind has another thought. 'And I’m a bakery.' Stop. That wasn’t right. He thinks, ‘I’m a cooker. I make dinner. I make sweet stuff.’ His thoughts run on. And what sort of sweet stuff? ‘ Um doughnuts, cake…‘ Then suddenly he's finished his afternoon tea, ‘I’m full,’ and is hopping down from the table and on to the next thing. How I love them both, just as my grandmother and my mother loved me and my children. The wheel turns and all is well.