Sunday, 3 July 2016

Chapter 148: I am half agony, half hope.

Thursday, 23 June. I am half agony, half hope. If I were to believe my Facebook feed, or playground gossip, the Remain vote is a shoo-in. But each time there has been an election that community has been utterly wrong. I live in a bubble. And I feel it's about to pop. Again. 

Friday, 24 June. I can write the saddest lines of all tonight. Write, for example: "The night is full of stars, and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance." The night wind whirls around the sky and sings. I can write the saddest poem of all tonight. I loved her...

Those words aren't mine, obviously. I borrowed them from the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, because I don't have any of my own right now. I love her. Europe. I love her. My Mum. And I'm not quite ready to use the past tense for either just yet.

When I break the news of Brexit to my son this morning, a boy who is old enough to understand the implications, but too young to vote, I think my heart can't break any more. Then I hear the news later that day that Mum, 84, has collapsed, and it does. I can't help but feel the two events are somehow connected, even though reason tells me otherwise. For my parents, who lived through the War, to witness the rising tide of racism and xenophobia as Britain goose-steps its way out of Europe has been a devastating blow. 

Saturday, 25 June.  I cancel my clowning workshops for the day and drive straight down to the hospital. As I turn in, I see a poster advertising Circus Wonderland. Circus everywhere. Seriously?! Despite a sense of urgency to get to the hospital, I haven't quite absorbed how precarious a situation Mum is in. I arrive at intensive care to find her in a medically induced coma. Seven seasons of Grey's Anatomy have not prepared me for the tubes and the bleeping machines. Standing round her bedside the next day with my five siblings and Dad, invited by the doctors to say goodbye, is where words fail, but somehow Mum has made it through the next round of surgery. These are early days, and she is fragile, but we are cautiously optimistic. 

I am resigned to the fact that so much right now is outside of my control, both in the personal and the political sphere, and in the no-man's land of the early hours of the morning have found myself turning, after a fashion, to Shakespeare. The writer who, time and again, shows us how intricately the two are woven. I have found the space to read an entire novel, ironically called "The Gap of Time". It is a cover version by Jeanette Winterson of "A Winter's Tale", part of the "Shakespeare Lives" project, see - click here. Set in both London and the jazz space of New Bohemia, with cameos from a Clown and that circus space of The Roundhouse, I am in familiar territory.  It has brought home to me that when events are outside our control, we are not powerless. We still have a choice about how we respond, and in so doing time and again there lies the opportunity to redeem the past, rather than let the past mortgage the future.

Thursday, 30 June. Xavier and I are at the funeral today of a man we loved dearly. In the past fortnight three people we love have died and my mother is on a life-support machine. Deep in the countryside, surrounded by beauty, I take heart in words from Shakespeare. "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows...", there lies a midsummer night's dream. My siblings message me that Mum has regained consciousness. I return home to a hug from my son, and the news that he has signed me up to make brownies for his entire class for the following day. Thanks love.

Friday 1st July. Today is the anniversary of the start of The Battle of the Somme. I went there one summer with my parents. We visited memorials and graveyards, living testimony to some 60,000 dead, and walked in the footsteps of history. Walk a while in their shoes. That is what we all need to do. To remember. Lest We Forget. A two minute silence is observed at 7.30am apparently. About the time when I am shouting at the kids to get a move on for school, while shoving some edible glitter onto the sodding brownies. Actually they turn out rather well (the cakes and the kids) and having decanted two dozen pieces of chocolate decadence into tupperware, we feast on the leftovers for breakfast.

After dropping the kids off, I shoot straight down to the hospital in Portsmouth. Mum has had a restless night and is sleeping deeply. I sit, watching, waiting. I am reminded of a GĂ©rard de Nerval story related in the "The Gap of Time", a tale within a tale. An angel falls to earth. Trapped in a block of buildings, if he opens his wings to fly back to the sky all around him will crumble. If he remains he will die. I think of Mum and her Remaining. When Mum comes round, gently, she gives me the most angelic smile. You are so pretty. I like your necklace. It is an edelweiss pendant, a present from a German pen-friend when I was 14. Mum likes her mountain flowers. Edelweiss remind me of Switzerland. Have you ever been? I think she is teasing me, for my husband is Swiss. What is your name? Lucy? Ah, I have a daughter called Lucy. She's been to Switzerland too..." It's been raining, my hair has sprung into soft curls round my face. Maybe that is why she mistakes me for a hospital angel. She is holding onto my hand. I am still smiling, swallowing gently, blinking rapidly. It is me, Mum. I am your daughter. I'm right here. Soon the haze wears off and she is lucid, mortified she didn't recognise me earlier, naming each of my children in turn, as though to reassure us both. The consultant is doing the rounds. They will be moving her from intensive care as soon as they can find a bed. I am pinching myself. We have Mum back. 

We are in recovery now. And it is not just Mum. It is the entire family. It is the entire country. It is easy to say we should remember that our response to even the most dire of situations is always in our control, but it is much harder in practice. When I hear of a Brexit vote, or worse a bleated apology (often a justification, rather than an expression of regret) a red mist descends. Especially now when I know one or two in my family (not the "wrinklies" - I hate that expression!) voted out. In the violence of my emotions I run the risk of letting anger make a monster of me, and I have to swallow it, or divide the family. I see in the news others letting rip their inner demons, whether it be fear of others or hatred of themselves, and whether the anger is justifiable or deeply sinister, ultimately the outcome is the same. Revenge begets further tragedy. That is what Shakespeare warns us time and again. We need a space to grieve publicly, and to join our voices together to mourn what is lost. But it is our duty also to forgive those who don't want to be forgiven, to reach out to those who don't want to shake our hand, to listen with our hearts to their concerns and to somehow find a way to reconnect. I write this. Lest I forget. 

Dad carved this plaque, Mum painted it. We are Europe.

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