Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Year without her

A Year without her
Tuesday March 13, 2012:
It's cold this morning, so much for the mild weather forecast. I sit down
under the castor oil plant and slowly sip my tea. Above me on the Parkland
walk, two women stand and talk their voices echo through the bare branched
trees, their words indistinct.
A window is being pushed up. The person thrusting at it appears to be
leaning out and hawking disgustingly! I focus on the sound of a pigeon
cooing contentedly in the trees ahead of me. It's been a year since
Vijayatara died. From today, I've lived every day for a year without her.
It's like there is a river of tears falling into the well of sorrow. I swim
through the water, the rough bricks of the tunnel scraping my limbs as I
squeeze through.
The cavern with the rock is half filled with water. My rock is dry and
clear. I sit on it and gaze around me.
The water eddies and flows. Light from the cave mouth leading out to grey
boulder-strewn beach silvers its surface. It lights up the relief of Kwan
Yin on the wall.
I gaze at her calm smiling face. It is full of compassion. Her smile
broadens as I see the flickering shape of the little lizard, running across
the band of her hat. I feel warmed by that smile and soothed.
Something moves at the cave mouth. I see the stark dark outline of the
Crane, standing, looking in at me, hardly moving, just observing. This is
calming.
What has my life been in this year since Vijayatara died? I sit and reflect.
The castor oil plant leaves are cool and damp upon my cheek a whole year
without her. A whole year in which the scenes changed and moved. A year in
which time drew its circle and met itself at the other end, culminating in
today, the anniversary of her death.
The immediate aftermath of death is full of activity. We gather by her
bedside, touch her, and sing to her, say goodbye to her. She lies serene
and peacefully, neatly arranged with a red rose in her dark hair, looking
every bit the sleeping princess.
Our circle of love is shattered by the intrusion of her homophobic estranged
family, here at last but not to give her support. We, her lover, friends
and chosen family, move together, close in, forming a circle of sustenance,
deflecting the homophobia with the energy of our love for Vijayatara.
I stand on the crescent shore of a small cove as the huge round moon rises
over the sea. The waves lap softly, as though the earth gently rocks as day
and night settles in balance. Later, I lie back in a deep armchair and
allow myself to find temporary release in gin. I sleep like a baby and wake
to find the world still desolate and empty without her.
Her funeral is packed. Warm tributes bring her to us vividly. Om Tare, we
chant. We stand around her open coffin. She lies cushioned in ivory satin,
dressed in her green ordination robe, her prayer beads in hand. We encircle
her with flowers.
After the service, the eating to sustain, the cremation, I lean against a
tree and breathe. Giving thanks to the natural world for her presence in my
life. We sing to the trees and to her memory.
This year will be full of firsts. The first "this" without Vijayatara; the
first "that" without Vijayatara. Now it is the first demo without her. Her
lover, two friends and I march for the alternative through the streets of
Central London. Austerity has begun to threaten the lives of ordinary
people. The government chooses to target the weak; they round first on
benefit recipients.
"At least, she is spared this", her lover says, referring to the imminent
hounding of disabled and ill people who are on Incapacity Benefits. We are
quiet, each walking in silence feeling the empty Vijayatara shaped space
beside us. Each step we take, each revolution of the wheels of the chair,
we walk and move on her behalf.
Something inside me is shaking. I can't sleep. My memory is fuzzy. I ride
the shock of Vijayatara's death, the trauma of its aftermath, the assault
upon all of us but especially upon her lover, of Vijayatara's estranged
biological family. I feel polluted.
I go to the trees. I lie down under a tall oak and allow its strength to
sooth and clean me. I sleep and the dogs of death that come to guide all my
beloved dead to wherever they need to go, come. Waking, I feel the pain
shift to a more bearable hurt.
The trees call me back again. I walk amongst magisterial cypresses, pines
and yews in Kew. I lie under one whose branches lean down to the ground and
receive its silent strength.
She brings words to me. I chase down the memories. I thread them together
in a tribute for her. I stand, shaking, yet calm, before a silent audience
of strangers and friends and with words paint a picture of a beautiful life,
which has the power to change me profoundly and I give thanks for knowing
her.
And now, we plan the celebration of her life. The day comes. The room
filled with family and friends from all parts of her life. We share our
memories of her in words, song, pictures and food. It is very fitting.
I take my pain to a hot mountainside and sit, exploring the gifts she has
left me, as I spin words in her honour. It is a huge release to do this
Legal concerns intrude. I write an account of witnessing Vijayatara signing
her will. I remember the antiseptic, loud, hard smell and sound of the
hospital. At the centre, the quiet determined figure of a mortally ill woman
squeezes the last ounce of energy out so that she can make sure her affairs
are left in as good an order as possible. It is done. All is made safe.
On her fiftieth birthday, we gather together and over food, celebrate her
life. We speak of the past, present and future. I practice a speech I am
to deliver the next day as I take my first step towards becoming a
politician. In her name, I speak of justice. In her name, we eat the food.
In her name, we will remember her birthday and her warm presence, always on
this day.
It is the first Pride March without her. I walk the streets quietly,
soberly, remembering who she is. I rage at the exclusion disabled people
experience on the march, hear her voice lifted in outrage and take courage
to keep going.
Summer spins on and I escape to wet Welsh mountainsides and then to Spain
again. I'm living each day as the first of that day without her.
Now as the warm sun softens into autumn, it is 6 months since she died. Six
months without her. Her life and memory have been celebrated by many. We
all walk the land with the spirit of her in our hearts.
We take to the streets in defense of all that need protecting, her lover,
our friend and I. Sun shining on my cheeks as I stand in the cold air by
the river. I hold the space as speaker after speaker reveals the impact of
the cruel plans. I remember her and am for a moment glad that she is not
here to be put through such a terrible state sponsored assault.
On my birthday. Gathered around in my sitting room, with some extra guests,
we eat and remember her as we celebrate my day.
The earth spins on. The light recedes. I go within, down into that dark
cave of despair and sadness as my professional life shakes and begins to
unravel. The government's intentions inexorably roll on, as they clarify
the terrifying assault on the most vulnerable, whilst protecting their own.
And Before I know it, only three of us sit together at New Year, exchanging
presents, talking about her, ourselves and the future. I have in my pocket
the crystals I chose from the bag I bought last year for us all to choose
from. I remember us discussing the relative quality of each as Vijayatara
holds hers in that warm strong hand and asks what they mean, as though she
knew already that the future would be hard. So on this night, twelve months
later, we sing The International" and remember Vijayatara.
On this night, last year she had been in pain. We'd talked about the likely
cause, all thinking it was one of those generic tummy conditions that are
uncomfortable rather than threatening. How little we knew as we talked of
likely treatments, our own journeys with grumbling guts. How sanguine I at
least was that it was not serious.
And now in the New Year, the anniversary of the diagnosis comes and goes,
and the date it was finally confirmed. Then the anniversary of her first
chemo followed swiftly by the collapse of her whole system and her second
and final admission to hospital. From here she would only leave to be taken
to the hospice.
So I have now lived once before through this very day, this very hour, this
very second without her before. It is no longer the first time.
I am walking up a long grassy incline. London lies below me, held in the
bowl of the hills, clustered around the snaking silver grey river. Two dogs
run about my feet.
Against the pale sky, a distant spec, growing bigger reveals itself to be a
pigeon, flying straight toward me. I spread out my arms and feel myself
lifting, rising up to join it as it circles about the city. We turn,
circling, flying over the places of her life.
The wide arc of our first circle takes in the half circle of South London
where she spent her childhood. We circle east and then northwards across
the river, the circle growing smaller sweeping from Stoke Newington, to
Bethnall Green, to her home by the canal, to her lover's home, to The
Homerton in the east and then to the quiet hospice close to her home.
Her life spread out, traced in the shape of the crowded London Streets,
peopled by a diversity of humanity. These are her people.
The streets speak of the hard battles and the wonderful victories, the
setbacks and the breakthroughs. Through them, she moves, falteringly and
courageously, her resolve strengthened by the power of her relationship with
her lover, Buddhism and her politics.
I fly back to the hill. The pigeon rises up into the sky and disappears.
The dogs are nowhere to be seen. At my feet, a soft white feather flutters
in the morning breeze.
Preparatory to rising, I reach out to touch the top of the raised bed. My
fingers touch then close upon a small twig of rowan tied with a length of
spangles originally to be found on a belly dancing belt. I pick it up and
shake it. The spangles tinkle softly. I get up and take them, over to the
Compassion Shrine and tie them to a bit of old Greenham fence that I've
attached to it
It seems fitting somehow, the almost frivolous spangles and the serious
fence, united in a place built to remind me of the power of compassion. If
I learned anything from Vijayatara, it is about the power and grace of the
gift of compassion.
Slowly, I walk back up the garden path. Imperceptibly at first and then
more boldly, soft morning sunlight touches my wet cheek
The night has drawn in. The furniture has been pushed aside and a circle of
chairs facing a carefully constructed shrine with a green Tara candle
photographs of One year on, we are gathered to remember her. Quietly, we
are invited to spend a moment in appreciation of ourselves, in compassion
for ourselves. I take out and examine all that I am because Vijayatara was
in my life and all that I am now she is no longer here. I give thanks for
those gifts that can never be taken away by her death. I am different
because she was in my life and will always be with me because of this. Om
Tare, Om Vijayatara.

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