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– Being and belonging

February 27, 2013

monkey and sofia blog being and belonging headermonkey and sofia blog being and belonging

The month of February is apparently the lowest point in the year.  We are almost out of the push which saw us through December and up to Christmas with its tinsel and lights.  Their afterglow and all the celebrations managed to take us to the end of January, even though it was cold and grey we had the feeling that if only we could last out until the end of the month, spring would be there for us in February.  But unlike TS Elliot, who thought that April was the cruellest month, I reckon that honour goes to February.  Granted, April pretends to have something warm and friendly to offer us, with glimpses of the summer to come but then cruelly dashes our hopes with late snow and bleak coldness.  At least February doesn’t pretend.  It is the low point.

More people die in February than in any other month of the year.  I don’t know if that’s statistically correct but my Mum told me it was true so surely that makes it fact.  Years ago she worked at a dry cleaners in a parade of shops opposite the local crematorium.  Her boss, having had the advantage of seeing many Februaries pass, observed that this was the month when the crematorium was at its busiest, it was the low point in the year where those hanging on by a thread just couldn’t cling on any more.  I wonder if that’s really true or if there’s something related to the universe, to do with the magnetic pull of the earth or the planet’s atmosphere or a shift in the earth’s axis.  In other words, something bigger than us which occurs in February and takes some of us with it in its wake.  Perhaps it’s more acceptable to believe in the big thing rather than it just being the endless cold greyness which adds depression to physical illness and ultimately equals death.  I don’t know.

I’ve been thinking about it because our friend died, the one who was in hospital, and it just seems wrong.  I know people will say that 83 was a good age and that death comes to us all but my question is, why does it?  Why does it come?  I’m not sure if I mean the actual dying itself, which seems so utterly sad and awful or why, when however old we are, we can never really be ready to go.  Certainly all those left behind aren’t ready to be alone.  It’s just not right.  The more I think about it, the more I am left with the feeling that for all our so-called advancement we still don’t understand the simplest thing i.e., why do we have to die and why are we so unprepared for our own and our dearest’s departures?   We cloud the issue by focussing more and more on inanities and things which waste life so appallingly, like chatting online.  Is there anything more disrespectful to our short lives than chatting?  Meanwhile, if all the clever people are busy inventing things like Facebook who can we look to, to help us understand our end?  Maybe society’s worship of youth culture is the acknowledgment that there is no answer and that our obsession with being young is us trying to back away from our inevitable end.

An Indian friend once said that he couldn’t understand why Western cultures were so worried and fearful about dying, never wanting to think or talk about it, let alone embrace it.  In his culture life and death were much more closely tied together.  Everyone understood that death was part of life, not some bogeyman waiting to snatch us away, death was the next stage, it happened in the context of everyday life and was somehow more acceptable.

Maybe it’s just that unreal sense of people being rubbed out of our lives, the sudden disappearance which seems so wrong.  Would I feel less sad about Tim’s being missing from our lives if I knew that he was prepared to go and that his family were not so distraught?   I don’t know but it seems wrong that he’s no longer here.

When someone is missing from the daily roll call of life their disappearance affects everyone who knew them.  So surely that means that our lives are really about us belonging to other people and to our place.  In a way it’s one of the things we feel keenly here, because we are foreigners living in a tiny rural community.  We’ve no family here and didn’t know a soul when we arrived but somehow we have managed to edge our way into this place.  Unlike the big city we came from this place is almost entirely made up of inter-related people.  Cousins, aunts, brother-in-laws, nephews, godmothers, great aunts and how strange it must have been for these people who, not only have known each other since birth, but in many cases have connections going back through generations, to have to work out how we fitted into the pattern of the place.  Bizarrely it seems to be happening, not due to any huge effort on our part beyond being grateful for local people’s acceptance and respectful of their way of life.  Gradually over almost four years we have become ‘familiar’, family, a term for those who belong here, a greeting when we meet each other in the nearby small town.  People miss us if we fail to materialise when we are expected in the pueblo, they report that we had been asked after and are happy to know we are well and back on track, i.e. visible.   People are ready to offer what might be needed in the way of help or at least solidarity whenever we have a problem.  Maybe it’s always been this way in small places.  Help had to be found amongst its people because there was no one else to ask.

Yet, deaths do affect everyone here too.  There was a funeral yesterday because even in Spain, February claims its own.  The crowd of black-clad people were huddled outside the church, sharing their loss and again I felt it was wrong.  But there was a difference and I think it might have something to do with small places and small communities.  Everyone who lives here knew the woman who died and likely, they’ll have a memory or two of their relationship.  So maybe this makes if feel that even though she’s no longer here her part in the fabric of life won’t fall into holes because of her absence.  Everyone’s memories will ensure that.  And after many years her part will have been reworked and embroidered over by the people who continue to live here so that the fabric will continue to hold her and everyone else in it.

I’m going to ponder this fabric thing as I continue to miss Tim’s regular, weekly letters.  Love, death, memory and place are surely something for us all to think about, but thankfully February is behind us and we can look forward to a hopeful March and the joys of the spring to come.

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