Rosamund woke up on Boxing Day and said: “why does it all have to be on just one day?” I knew what she meant. All the build up towards Christmas and the excitement of Christmas itself, and then *poof* it’s all gone for another 364 days. I didn’t have much to say to that except to give her a cuddle, and then a punnet of blueberries (which I was not allowed to do, and have now “wrecked” the fruit salad for pudding tonight). Sigh.
I am still playing the game of turning H is for Hawk and The Sword in the Stone into one book, and seeing how many other things it draws in. I have always been drawn to seeing through one thing to another, and both of these texts do that. Hawk is deliberately linked to Sword as a text, but both books themselves are concerned with time and existence. In Sword Merlyn explains his predicament to Arthur,
Now ordinary people are born forwards in Time, if you understand what I mean, and nearly everything in the world goes forward too. This makes it quite easy for the ordinary people to live… But I unfortunately was born at the wrong end of time, and I have to live backwards from in front, while surrounded by a lot of people living forwards from behind. Some people call it having second sight.
It is a poignant scene if one is aware of its enormous proportions. If you take a moment to think that at this point Merlyn – who has seen all of King Arthur’s tragic life unfold – is now meeting Arthur for the last time: as a boy who knows nothing of his future.
If you know what is going to happen to people, and not was has happened to them, it makes it difficult to prevent it happening, if you don’t want it to have happened, if you see what I mean?
It gives me pause. I suppose it makes me think two things. Firstly, if we put aside the lovely literary trick that the writer has played to describe how Merlyn lives, we are left with what has been created for all the characters who meet Merlyn: a heightened sensitivity to now, to the present tense. Instead of us all walking together and having the companionship of a journey together, a shared present tense, we are merely passing each other as we walk in opposite directions. Being aware of this may make us slow down, it may make us say things of more moment, and touch hands lingeringly, but no matter how much we focus on the moment it will be brief. I see it as that beautiful moment when two dancers, a man and a woman, who have been dancing far apart at either edge of the stage, come slowly together in the centre stage to dance a pas de deux, and then drift apart again, and away into the wings.
Secondly, it makes me think of the distant, shadowy people of the past from my own family. There is that idea that for Maori there is a sense of walking backwards into the future. That the past is always present.
In Hawk MacDonald talks about the medieval poem Sir Orfeo:
In Celtic myth that otherworld is not deep underground; it is just one step aside from our own. Things can exist in both places at once – and things can be pulled from one to the other.
Merlyn can know what is going to happen but not what has happened which makes it hard to help prevent the aspects of the future that would be best avoided. But we have a similar trap. Knowing what has happened in our histories but not what is going to happen, makes it hard to prevent those aspects of the past we think of as undesireable influencing our future.
It is difficult, for example, to reflect on the alcoholism of a grandparent, or the mental illness, or the hot destructive temper, or the weak heart, or the aggressive, persistent cancer without mentally ascribing those qualities to your own, or our family’s, possible futures. And what do you take steps to try and avert, uncertain as you are of which qualities you may or may not carry? Are you drinking to much? Are you sad too much? Do you persist with the cancer screening? Do you watch your weight for the sake of a heart which may or may not be weak? What of your children? What gifts and burdens have you left them?
And so you take a mix of steps, that uncertain dance again, shaped by past, seeking a future.
The cat is lying in the sun on the bench in the garden, and the morning sky is a beautiful blue against the green leaves of the hedge. My mother described her childhood Christmas yesterday. After all the food, in the heat of the afternoon, the men would go and sit on the long scythed grass in the shade of the hedge with their hats pulled down and have a sleep. 70 years ago, but I feel I am there. Come loaf with me, on the grass.