Home (Part 2) – A land both ancient and brand new

During a recent trip home my town suffered a terrible loss when two young men and an instructor drowned after being washed out to sea during a coastal rock climbing exercise. I had been thinking all week about the landscape of my hometown and how it has shaped so much of my identity – and indeed my writing –  so when the tragedy occurred I wrote a little piece as a tribute to both the land, and the notion of coming home …

It is what I look for when that little plane begins its descent. The mountain with its near-perfect peak, and the way the hills slope down to our black-sand coast. As other landmarks come into sight – the distinctive Sugar Loaf Islands, the jutting rise of Paritutu Rock, it is how I know I am home.

When I tell people where I come from I always start with our landscape. We have a mountain and the sea, you know. It is something special to have both at once. Like those rare mornings you catch the moon hanging out with the sun, I have always loved looking from our coast to the mountain and back again. It feels so elemental.

It is a world away from my crowded city life, with her stagnant bay and shiny high rises. A morning run at home is something of a cross-country compared to my well-tailored track around my adopted city’s Botanical Gardens. I arrive home from a Kiwi run muddy and exhilarated because here is the other thing about where I come from: it is just a little bit wild, this place. The landscape is both beautiful and unpolished; it can make you feel a little ancient. And a little brand new.

I often joke that I come home whenever I am wounded. I come home to heal from love affairs, from issues with career and finances. From love affairs. I get my strength back, breathe in the fresh air and then head back to the city for more of the same.

But on this trip it is my town that nurses an incomparable wound, suffering from the tragic loss of two of its own and one newly adopted son. Three members of our community who I imagine loved the landscape as much as I do. Three men doing what so many have done before them, honouring the adventurous Kiwi spirit and celebrating our natural environment, before something went terribly wrong.

It is hard to know what to do. This is not just life going a little off course. You can’t just breathe deep and keep going. Instead you have to stop and sit with the pain. You have to take your time. The helicopters flying above provide an incessant soundtrack. Like the young man with heavy shoulders etching the word “Hope” into the sand we all feel the weight of it; everyone looks out to sea now.

Grief can connect a community; it reminds us of how closely we are aligned. But as we stare at the horizon it is a lesson we would rather learn in other ways. I can only close my eyes when the sea washes the word “Hope” away.

We are all here for just a moment. If we are lucky this life extends into twilight. But nothing stays. This is perhaps the only thing we can be sure of. So on this trip I do something I haven’t done before, I extend my leave to spend just a few more days at home. I take my time. I look from the mountain to the sea every morning, and I make sure to look – really look – at my parents. From dad’s blue-grey eyes to mum’s gold and brown I memorise the human landscape that I love.

I believe that nothing is ever truly lost to us. That like our landscape, we are a people at once ancient and brand new – in this way we endure and we revive. And with both the mountain and sea as our lodestars, I have to believe that in time we all find our way home.

Landscape at body, remember

(The above piece was published in our local paper last week and I wanted to share it with my readers here. Thank you as ever for stopping by!)

Next Year … Some Year

Some Tuesday, Thursday, April, August … Autumn, Winter, Next Year, Some Year …

Millay was right when she said they all have lied.

There hasn’t been any day, in any week, in any month – not a single day since then. I would take just one – a series of 24 successive hours where you don’t invade my heart thoughts.

A solid sleep, a quiet morning, an inconsequential afternoon. An evening where you cannot be tasted in the vodka and sadness that burns in my throat … and a night where you do not come to me unbidden when I first close my eyes.

I would take just one of these days from back, before.

There is absence and then there is this. The silent, suspended presence. The way the saxophone mourns on my favourite song. The hundred little ways you won’t go away. They said there would come an easier time, the scientists and the lovers too. But it doesn’t heal a thing, you know.

I suspect it merely drives it deeper.

Joanne Piechota at body, remember
Image by Joanne Piechota

Remarkable

It is not so remarkable. To be two in seven billion. To find each other in the throng. It is not so remarkable to navigate the wide oceans and narrow fences between us, to swim and scramble, and to arrive at each other at last.

It’s not so remarkable to shake loose from our skins, to shed the layers of other lives – to lay naked and begun in borrowed arms. There is nothing to revere in the andante unwrapping, in the pulse and rise of you and I. In the honesty of opened palms, and the unequivocal invitation. These consummations of an extraordinary kind.

There is nothing special in this, my love. To fall so hard that you prefer the ground. How it sinks you in and you’re finally found. How all around us people are buried alive and here we are, gasping for air. There is not a single thing worth holding there.

Not a thing at all, I have to say. If you close your eyes and take your time. If you think on what we had, and made … if you think about just what we were given. I feel certain that now we would have to agree. It is not so remarkable at all.

The Kiss Sculpture by Rodin at body, remember

Recognition

Our friendship is a triumph over suspicion. We’ve both been building barriers our whole lives and we court each other in kind. She forgives me for how we met because the relief is too strong, it hits us both, the immediate understanding that we are both connected and somehow in this, less alone.

All that we do not ask in the first tentative weeks, all that we do not say because the words are not yet ready to hit the light, will define it. We continue to meet every morning, we sit side by side and share the paper and pass the sugar. We barely speak. Shoulder to shoulder, the occasional leaning in. If we start to talk something will be broken. We both have too much locked up inside to risk the breach. But we sit together every day and the barriers start asking to fall.

By the time we get there, when we are finally ready to tell our stories, they will arrive as recognition, as reminders of what we already knew. We will trade histories that wind and weave through different tracks, occasionally coming close, sparking off each other before heading off in a different direction. Two lives in a city of millions that ran parallel at times, and the ignorance of each other’s existence until one morning when Lucy Mason goes for a run and I drop the coffee jar with a crack on the floor.

Here our lives stop and turn. We are oriented toward each other in this irrevocable moment, the gears changing on both of our lives, as her love and mine collide.

It will take months for the stories to surface. But for now we show up for coffee every morning before work, and on the weekends there is a type of longing until Monday swings back around. Thirty minutes that become the sanctuary of my day, the only place where I can hold you close, and feel that somehow, someway you are mine to keep.

You belong to both of our secrets now, Mack.

(An excerpt from the beginnings of the friendship between Maggie and Lucy – the woman Mack was trying to help when he died)