Walking through the markets yesterday morning, I spotted some beautiful waratahs at a flower stall. Up until a few years ago they were a protected species – possibly still are – and weren’t readily available. So seeing them at market stalls for a reasonable price is a whole new experience.
The point for me, though, was when I was walking away with my waratahs and began thinking, “When did I become a guy who appreciates beautiful flowers?” (In fact, I stood for a while pondering whether or not to buy some stunning dusky-pink roses; I decided against them but I have to say, without good reason).
So as I cradled my purchase in my arms and wandered amongst the hand-crafted breads, fresh produce, coffee, home-made cakes, and meat from almost any creature you could think of – including alpaca – I thought back to how I was, in what seemed like my two-dimensional-days before I met Ngaire. I found it hard to remember.
You see, I always had an appreciation for beauty, but she had a passion for it. I think I could safely say that, thanks to that passion, I now love good art, architecture, design, and the stunning extravagance of nature in sky, landscape, plants, creatures and all their individual elements: clouds, mountains, leaves, feathers…. and flowers. She was also my muse, the one who was my great encourager, inspiration and sounding-board for all of my creative pursuits.
I don’t know that anything of me had as much influence on her, perhaps some. I think degree of influence relates to mutual love, respect, and familiarity – even admiration. I remember, as a small boy watching my father, that I thought to myself, “I really like the jaunty way he moves when he’s walking.” So I began to emulate him. The older I get, the more I remind myself of him. Likewise, I see in my boys some of my own characteristics – and sometimes they annoy me.
The next question that follows is, “How much of who I am, is me?” Now obviously, I am entirely me; but we are all, to an incredible extent, an agglomeration of the influences of our friends, teachers, parents, partners; even our children can have a profound influence on the shape of who we are. This doesn’t even account for the trauma that so many suffer which also goes into the mix.
But when so much of who I am has been shaped by her in an almost-ongoing symbiosis for so many years, how do I find the me who functions and has sole thoughts and individual purpose without her? This may seem unnecessarily existential but bear with me.
It occurred to me in my pondering, that so many of my choices in the past were fashioned out of a desire to bring her joy, please her, or engage her more. Now, without that impetus, I cling to tenuous frameworks like going to work, cooking dinner or doing the washing; even looking after my boys is fading as they are now all older and making their own way, as it should be. Suddenly, irrevocably, it is no longer Matt and Ngaire – the unit. It is just Matt. And, as I said in a recent poem, “[The grace and love of her] presence, [was] an anchor-point for my soul, now adrift.”
You see, while I wondered at the mystery, I think that deep down I had an idea that this whole “the two shall become one” thing, was just a metaphor. It is clear to me now that it is not. In fact, to add to it, I would say that it seems to me there is an ongoing imperative when two spirits are united – that they will continue becoming one while they live.
It is as though the house that was Ngaire and Matt has been half-demolished, and I stand in my half, amongst rubble and torn plaster looking into the void. Within the half that remains there is strong evidence of her everywhere, for the house was as much hers as mine. So, almost feeling like a squatter now that she is gone, I contemplate the rebuild. In being exposed to the elements so, the stuff of life becomes more tedious and difficult. But, I have many who love and support me to help with that “project”.
However, in the midst of this, I think of those who are refugees or destitute on our own streets who have suffered unbearable loss through persecution, war or personal trauma – whole families in many cases – and it can be seen on their faces: a tragic empty pain that only love and time may help to heal. It angers and saddens me that many in our society have forsaken compassion and mercy for the “first world values” of hedonism, selfishness and misguided self-protection. But I digress.
For me, of course, there is truth in the line, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all”. It comes from a very long poem of Tennyson’s, written over a period of many years, after the death of a close friend, and is to be ventured into at your peril, for it delves into the dark places of the soul. Having said that, one of the central themes in the poem is the ongoing search for hope after loss:
O living will that shalt endure
When all that seems shall suffer shock,
Rise in the spiritual rock,
Flow thro’ our deeds and make them pure
That we may lift from out of dust
A voice as unto him that hears,
A cry above the conquer’d years
To one that with us works, and trust,
With faith that comes of self-control,
The truths that never can be proved
Until we close with all we loved,
And all we flow from, soul in soul.
– Stanza 131, In Memoriam – Alfred, Lord Tennyson
This is a worthy journey.