That’s what the future archaeologists will say about my fireplace.
Once, fire was the centre of the house and the centre of our lives. We tamed it, trained it and built chimneys take the smoke away. We celebrated our achievements and decorated the place of the fire, or fireplace, with a mantelpiece. Now the fire has gone and the mantelpiece becomes the place of the TV, rather like Roman temples replaced Neolithic sacred places and were later replaced themselves by Christian churches. TV is the centre of the household now. Praise be to TV.
And now, after the TV has gone, there just remains a bracket bolted to the wall. It is the clue but not the reason, the tantalising glimpse into what was. The archaeologists will say it was ‘ritual’, why else would we have suspended something above our very special fireplaces?
“An old man sees better behind himself than a young man sees in front of himself.” – Czech Proverb
The salmon is destined for one purpose and one purpose only and that is to return to its birthplace and spawn a new generation. One purpose from its birth, to reproduce. And what if it fails in that purpose? Is that a life wasted? Do we go to a symphony recital to wait for and listen to the last note, or do we enjoy the whole with the ending as important as the start or the middle. Each note is its own, its own existence, its own life, its own measure of importance.
This salmon lived its life to its full extent, it spawned, it travelled the treacherous trail to the sea and lived and grew and made its return journey upstream. It negotiated the Bristol Channel and ploughed upstream into the Wye and one hundred miles of downward flow and weirs and waterfalls until one day it stopped and just died. Here on my doorstep, on my beach. Exhausted in the struggle against the relentless flow of the Wye, it just died and now it lays in the water, a shallow grave.
What is a life if it is lived unfulfilled? Who gets to judge fulfilment or unfulfilment?
How will you live this one precious life?
Air Temp: 11 oC Water Temp: 11 oC
Slightly foggy, a mist had descended during the day, but a day sat at the table was too much and the river was calling with its soft call.
And I knew it was cold outside and I knew the water would be cold.
No, not cold, but invigorating, bracing, alive!
And so down to the river I head.
I run, I figure better to be warm on the outside than to stand and shiver at the edge.
Boats, coming downstream, a change of plan and up to the rope swing and I pause.
And wait again.
And finally I climb down and in.
Feet, calves, knees, thighs, trunks and I just stand there.
It’s not that cold.
But the mind is loud and the fear of cold is strong, even though I’m standing there in it.
I draw back, then advance slowly.
Millimetre by millimetre and one centimetre later I am still in the same place.
And then I swim.
Yes, it’s cold, and no, it’s not cold.
Not like ice, I’m not shivering, it’s just cold.
And I swim upstream a bit and downstream a bit and repeat.
And then it’s time to climb out and relish the warmer air before trotting back to the caravan, pausing only to pull a top on before exiting the wood and heading back.
I see you drawing. You’re sitting on a rock, on a beach looking out to sea. You don’t know I’m there, maybe you feel me in your mind but when you turn there’s just rock and the wind. I see you drawing, sketching the sea, a groyne, some rocks, a seagull, maybe a dolphin. I can’t draw, I have to write what I see. Write what you see. How would you describe what you sketch, would it match what I write? How can you express feelings in art? I can draw you in, explain the detail, you can only show the big picture; hope the viewer can see your intention. Can you make me feel the wind, smell the seaweed, the salt? Can you feel the rock you are sitting on? Is it cold, do you draw your coat tight around you? Do you feel me now holding you tight, one arm across your chest? We stare into the distance, the North Sea, the wind blowing in our faces. The moment lasts forever then it is gone, a gull cries, there’s no-one there. You sketch.
The memory is still so strong, years later I can remember the phone call, of how you told of running into the sea into those November waves and experiencing the thrill of the power of the waves and the overwhelming coldness of the North Sea for perhaps just a short minute or two before retreating to your brother’s house overlooking the seafront. And now you were talking to me, drinking wine and wearing that jumper, warming up and buzzing ecstatically with excitement. And though my heart ached for you, and I wished I was there to share it with you, I also knew you would never be mine. Your spirit was too free or perhaps you just didn’t love me enough, in the right way, to make it work.
You know, I think, in that moment, all it would have taken is for someone to put their arm around me and say to me
“You must be so frightened and hurting real bad”.
And at that point I think I might have broken down and cried. In all my brokenness to feel so abjectly unsafe and withdrawn over something so trivial.
And perhaps the lesson for me is that my safe place needs to be found inside me rather than attaching it to people or places that can never give me the safe place, the grounding, I need.
I can not control the world or ask it to keep me safe.