never goodbye

My parents had been married 48 years

when my father died.   He asked to be buried with his mother, whom my mother loved too.  Years later some brave or foolish person asked my mother, didn’t she return to Kent sometimes to see the grave ?   “No” said my mother memorably.  “That’s not where he is.”   I didn’t have to ask because I understood what she meant.  It was my upbringing.  Memorials come in different forms, they mean different things  to different people and our perception of them, the meaning we attach to them changes over time.  

When I was young I was invested in things lasting.  I loved  books and antiques

and  history because it was all about  the endurance of things.   But when the Ukraine War accelerated, you only had to see one photograph of the front blown off a perfectly ordinary apartment building to know how tenuous what we think of as solid and lasting is.

For the last few days, the battered people of Syria and Turkey have been all over our media,  scrabbling barehanded through the night at piles of what were  homes and houses, weeping beyond tears.  “My  children are under this” indicated a man, “ and nobody comes, no equipment, no one to help us, no food, no water.” 

And it has been cold.   So the chances of saving people have been less.

I know, everybody’s different and long live those differences but though I can understand not wanting your children under a  pile of rubble, I don’t understand wanting to  “see” them again.  They are gone.  Everything that they were has gone from this world into your recall.

For some people, memory is as fragile as the buildings thrown seismically into the air.  For the rest of us, it is the sustaining force of how to live in the world.  And sometimes it seems that what isn’t any more, is even stronger.  You can’t live in memory  but it makes daily life a great deal more bearable.

My father hasn’t been a constant presence as an image.  I have only see him, or bits of him  (the line of his head and shoulders) two or three times in the fifty plus years since he died.  But I hear his voice, I remember him telling stories.   My mother lives in my face, sometimes unsettlingly.   And she loved words, so certain words connect me to her immediately .  The intonations of both parents’ voices come to me at the darndest times, funny or serious, deeply in narration.

Both of them exemplarily explained ideas to me carefully and that’s a whole other set of connections.  This is not because I am necessarily always in agreement with them but that will to reach me, to offer me an interpretation, may be highly intangible but the wish behind it remains.  They are not gone.  I just can’t see them. 

What you believe and how it affects you is a subtle shifting stew of culture,  expectations, personality, family history,  imagination, need and will.    I thought I understood that what I believed in was underpinned by monuments, mostly manmade however long ago, but as I get older, I understand that what enables me to go forward is accounts of other people’s journeys in the world, literally and  imaginatively, the history of the land, what’s left and how it sits now, thousands of years later.    I accepted the law of paradox

ie if it looks like it’s built to last, it probably won’t and if it’s ephemeral, it probably will.   I once described old Mr.Moss  who lived at the top of the road opposite when I was a child, as looking like a dry leaf.   Human life is very small.  What is monstrous is the contempt in which other humans hold it.  

Keira Bell vv The Tavistock

Apparently the President of Turkey  took enormous paybacks from bad builders, who have now fled,  leaving the poor to do what the  poor do – starve and endure, starve and die, mourn and try again.   I hope Erdogan’s name is entered in the Heavenly Accounts on the debit side.

And Syria ?  Held by a blackguard, Syria was Putin’s rehearsal.  We can’t know what is coming.  We can only cleave to our good memories, and know that they are more use than any tombstone.   

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