The pathway to wisdom is a journey into self-knowledge. By its nature it can be a lonely journey. We have to discover courage that acknowledges weaknesses and learn to take responsibility for mistakes and misunderstandings.
Sarah's journey is coming to a close, and she recollects her life with clarity as she waits for its final moment. Tenuous as the threads had initially been, they strengthen as Sarah's diverse school friends mature, bringing awareness of how lives touch and influence each other, until one of the friends is forced to face the challenge of her life in order to acknowledge true love.
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About the Author
Love in DyingA Philosophical Novel
By JUDITH LINDSAY
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Judith Lindsay
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt has taken an eternity to reach this moment of discovery. I am experiencing joy in the understanding that death is not an enemy. I have not failed. Everything that is born will unquestionably die. Despite all its fumbling and confusion, I have experienced love and that is the true celebration of life.
It is foolish to dwell upon the mystery of time when time has, for me, nearly run its course. As if trapped in a capsule, my memories linger, floating in amniotic lucidity, as I retreat further away from myself. The memories slow down my forward propulsion, inviting me to take a look through the grey-pink misty light of the approaching dawn. A forgotten jingle is repeating in my head. 'My grandfather's clock is too tall for the shelf so it stood ninety years on the floor.' I want to sing, but who can hear me? Words disintegrate at the level of my throat and lose their form. I am humming inwardly. It is amusing me, so perhaps there will be a smile upon my lips that can be observed.
My attention is drawn to a similar clock. The white dial and gold numerals of its face set in the rosy warmth of a wooden mahogany case, standing tall in the hallway like a sentinel. I have always loved this clock. I remember as a child my young cousins and I pretended it was a cubbyhole through which imaginary friends returned each night to their world, as we were put to bed in ours. Part of our play was pretending to follow them back to the place they called home, but we were, of course, never successful. This was often the cause for being in strife with our elders, for making a toy of such a treasured family possession.
I can still hear the echoing cries of my young cousins whenever bedtime was near, especially Michael, calling out, "Come on, Sarah, let's hide in the cubby," his chubby form wriggling to make room for us both behind the clock in our futile, childlike attempts to evade the grown-ups.
As the years passed, I lost touch with these imaginary friends. The reality of my life intruded, leaving me to wonder if they might still be residing in the clock if only I could once more take a peek inside.
The dial is showing the time as four-fifteen. It is the magic time when one is invited to forget the past and avail oneself of the opportunity, if one should choose, to wipe clean the slate of one's existence; a window of opportunity to start afresh. That opportunity for me has passed. I am only conscious of the scene playing out around me as the memories take me back, each memory containing a momentum of its own that, at the same time, appears to propel me forward, and I am left with the sense there is no beginning and no end.
We have timepieces of every variety busily trapping and recording, yet time cannot be touched, seen, or heard. Whilst playing a quiz game on a wet afternoon during school holidays, I learnt there existed a Roman God called Janus, better known as January. Janus was reputed to have had two heads, one looking back into the past and one peering into the future. He appears to be the only recorded witness to such a phenomenon.
At the moment of birth, time begins its inevitable conditioning. From the very first tick of the clock, time begins manifesting the past, present and future. It marches on, it stands still, and it creeps up on us. Enjoyment rarely allows us sufficient time. However, when time stretches endlessly in front of us heading into nothingness, anxiety manifests. We eat, sleep and work to the monotonous ticking of a clock, paying little or no notice to the measure and routines it creates. Days, weeks, months and years, each in their own way, remind us time is passing, until, unconscious of its progress and how precious and illusive this commodity is, it unexpectedly runs out.
Without event horizons, time is linear, defined only by a beginning and an end. Draw a straight line between these two points: dub one birth and the other death, and a life starts to become apparent. As it stands, this is rather black and white with nothing particularly exciting about it. To add interest and fill in the spaces, we paint in various events: births, marriages, divorces, deaths and other memorable experiences. By themselves, these events are as flat as cardboard. We then use emotions to colour and enhance their reality: red for anger, black for pain, grey for sadness and pink for love. Slowly the drama reveals itself.
My friend Shanti had a more modern way of thinking. She devoured all the latest popular self-transformational books and tried hard to convert me to Nowology.
Brushing her intentions aside, I would laugh, "Trouble with you, Shanti, is that you're obsessed by -ologies and -isms and intent on changing me through problem-solving therapies. You're wasting your time because none of it makes sense to me. I'm already happy the way I am. Go and enjoy your books and practice your Nowology on someone else, but let me be."
"One day you'll regret you said that, Sarah," Shanti unknowingly prophesied.
At the time it was a life-changing opportunity I allowed to slip past me untried. A gift unappreciated, like a child inundated with birthday or Christmas presents quickly discarded the following day.
The dimension of Now, I have subsequently learnt, sees only the current moment and no other. I would like to believe I am in a Now moment, circumstances being what they are. There is supposed to be no future and no past. However, the past is insistent in its clarity at this moment. There have been times during the long nights when the cloak of sleep refused to wrap itself around me and my resolve was at its lowest ebb. This was when fear and dread at not being able to see a future invaded my thoughts. But with daylight a stronger resolve returned and I realised, if night had passed and there was morning, I still had a future left in which I could search for a new Now moment and fear had been a wasted exercise.
Perhaps there is a time dimension where past and Now are allowed as a form of special dispensation. Is this what I am experiencing? A beautifully comfortable timelessness holding no expectations or attachments, the past equally co-joined to the Now in happy union. It cannot be written about because it cannot be experienced until the final moment is reached. I am floating, like the white seed head of a dandelion. I hang in the shimmering warm summer doldrums waiting to burst forward with the first hint of a gentle breeze. Waiting for the final Now moment to surrender and be free. Any responsibility for my memories has dissolved, although they linger before me like pictures at an exhibition.
I wish I could convey to the loved ones gathered around me the thoughts now scurrying through my mind. But as I stare out at each of them, their eyes reflect back to me these same thoughts as if they have always been present in the mirror of our friendship.
Is this what life has made of me? Like a nomad, I am comfortable allowing myself to drift back with the pictures to where this linear tightrope called life began.
Chapter TwoWhen we first make our appearance onto the linear timeline called life, whatever the circumstances of our birth, we arrive with an imaginary suitcase abundantly full of nothingness. The game of life to be played out could be made so much easier if on arrival our suitcase contained a goodly supply of yardsticks. Instead, we have to wait to collect them as life unfolds. Simply put, when we are born we have to take our chances. We are given a dose of innocent trust that whatever has been ordained is as it should be and is perfect.
Whispering, as if the whole topic of womanhood was a secret to remain only between a mother and daughter, Mother confided in me, when my womanhood first showed itself and we were forced to have that special talk, "Sarah, having a child is the ultimate expression of love for your husband. It was not easy for me to conceive and I felt such disappointment and a sense of failure until you arrived. You made our world perfect."
There had been a number of miscarriages and Mother had all but given up before I arrived, blue-eyed, blonde-haired and bushy-tailed, Mother immediately vindicated in the eyes of the family. I became the most precious of miracles, adored equally by my parents and christened Sarah Emily in honour of my respective grandmothers. Mother reassured me I was of great pride to my father.
Nevertheless he joked often, "You know, it's been a great sense of relief to your mother's sisters you are, at last, part of the family. They can stop feeling guilty because they can abundantly produce offspring when your mother and I had to put so much effort into producing you! Mind you, I don't complain about the effort it took and I certainly have no complaints about the outcome."
As I grew up, people often said, "Sarah, you have a charmed life. You've been born into the Silver Spoon Brigade."
Innocent of the abundance surrounding me, I assumed this description referred to my father taking the early morning train from our village on the southern outskirts of the greater London area to reach his city office. Here he worked as a partner in the family's financial brokering business. Most Saturday mornings he relaxed by playing a round of golf. Both he and Mother enjoyed a game of bridge with family and friends. Mother had the reputation of being an excellent hostess, frequently being called upon to entertain Father's business associates.
Sharing a moment together one day not so far into the future, Mother imparted a word of wisdom that remained dormant for many years. "Our role in life," she explained, "is to provide a comfortable environment for our husband to return home to and be a wife he would be proud of."
Like so many villages in rural England, ours had a common on which weekend cricket fixtures were played during long, balmy, summer days. At one end of this green sward, overseeing its flock, was St. Mark's, the Anglican Church administering to the pastoral needs of the community. At the opposite end was The Bull, the local public house meeting the more social requirements of the village. We, who were born or raised there, loved its balance and rhythm.
I was born when England struggled to recover from the effects of the Second World War. The boundaries of many of her cities were pressing outward.
"New housing estates are nothing more than symbols of a different form of invasion," grumbled my father. "They're intruding into our way of life. I can see villages like ours eventually being gobbled up by developers."
Mother, attempting to pacify Father with a gentler and more reasoning approach, would suggest, "Don't you think Londoners have suffered enough? We surely shouldn't begrudge them the chance of a new life in a new home. We've been so lucky. We've not lost anyone in our family as a result of the war and everything we have is still intact. William, things can't be as bad as you're suggesting."
"Believe me, Lillian, I hear things in the city and would like to be proved wrong, but we shouldn't bury our heads in the sand."
There it would end, and the peace and harmony of village life as it was then continued.
The large comfortable house I was raised in sat back from the church and common on the edge of the village proper. It had been there so long it blended with and had become part of the environment. It stood in grounds overlooking wide spread rural countryside. Mother enjoyed pottering in our extensive garden, but Father employed a local man to come in twice a week to assist her with anything heavy.
Father had no real interest in gardening, but he would gaze from our back windows surveying and appreciating the different views each season brought, observing, "We can enjoy the beauty and benefits of an estate without the effort or expense of its upkeep."
The entire Silver Spoon Brigade travelled with the seasons. At holiday times, the extended family was like an ocean wave. We would roll en masse and crash onto another shore where the routine of our lives was efficiently re-established. The south of France, Nice, Menton were the favoured destinations to take our summer holidays. Under the watchful eye of an au pair, we cousins swam in the warm blue waters of the Mediterranean or jumped into a dinghy and fished until we became bored with inactivity. We strolled narrow hilly laneways winding between whitewashed villas perched precariously on the hillsides. Pink, yellow and purple bougainvillea lazily grew up against the sun-reflecting walls. Whenever we could, we taunted any dogs trapped inside these boundaries, hoping the barking would disturb the quiet of the afternoon siesta. Igniting my imagination, I spent hours exploring tiny boutiques, their wares gathered from around the globe. The aroma of coffee and pungent Gauloises cigarettes wafted out from small intimate cafes where we would often sit under multihued umbrellas and eat our way through copious amounts of ice cream.
In autumn, we headed north to Scotland rugged up against the more robust climate in lamb's wool sweaters and sensible shoes. The sweaters smelt damp when the mists of the highlands and frequent chilly rain descended on us. When touched, the wool felt greasy and steam rose. All this so the men folk could play golf. In winter, the family skied.
Comfortable guidelines existed that had been in place for several generations so that my childhood steps were easily traversed and accepted without question. I had oodles of cousins with whom to play. We were clones of each other, moulded from the same batch of clay.
My parents registered me at the local primary school to commence my education. This was really only a way to fill in those early years, because, by age eleven, boarding school was a foregone conclusion for all the younger members of our extended family. Tradition decreed I would attend the same educational facility as my mother and aunts before me.
Oaklands Park College, outside Sevenoaks in the county of Kent, is an exclusive establishment for girls from homes able to meet the substantial fees asked. The school had been the brainchild of Elizabeth Kraseman, who suffered pecuniary embarrassment after the death of her husband when he was ambushed and killed in the latter days of the Boer War. Elizabeth's husband was a second son and therefore not expected to inherit. However, soon after the death of his father, the elder brother took a fall from his horse whilst out hunting and died from his injuries. He left no heirs. This quick succession left the estate with substantial death duties and Elizabeth was left with no alternative but to find a way to support herself and save the estate from growing debts.
She must have been a tenacious lady, for, together with a matronly relative who had experience as a governess, they started a school for young ladies at Oaklands. Initially, they struggled and were obliged to sell off small parcels of the estate, but Elizabeth refused to let go of a grove of ancient oaks that became the symbol of the school and gave her strength and support during the early years. Although long deceased, the school now administered by a board of trust, the two ladies had established a tradition that prevailed.
Academia was perhaps not the highest priority at Oaklands. In my mother's day, one was not so much educated as prepared for early marriage. As long as one was perfectly groomed, could make polite conversation and knew sufficient French to read a menu, as these were considered the attributes of a good marriage, nothing more was expected from the hallowed halls of learning.
Fortunately, by the time I became a member of the student body, there prevailed a more progressive outlook. We were encouraged to take an interest in academic skills, as long as it did not turn into a serious career path and prevent us from acquiring that 'good marriage' too late.
"We like our gals to be progressive and modern," euphemistically declared the school prospectus.
There were careers that were considered suitable, but it was a rare gem of a gal that went on to university and defied the traditions. If they did, we tended to view them with suspicion. I think in some way we felt let down.
Excerpted from Love in Dying by JUDITH LINDSAY Copyright © 2010 by Judith Lindsay. Excerpted by permission.
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