A mother then of four, Nancy reached for the cord-phone and put it to her ear. Her husband was out working in the fields. Cherry Tree Farm in Surrey (in the South of England) was such a lovely place to be. And then the lightning struck, literally! She was looking into the mirror as she began to perhaps dial on the phone (she cannot accurately recall; it was in 1951 you know), and there was this bright white light right behind her and a tremendous bolt that came slicing through the open window, knocked the phone right out of her hand, and stupefied her. Literally! No other harm done. It took several minutes before she could speak again. Her hair was on end. She could not move at first; just stood there, stiff as a scarecrow. But then slowly things came back to normal. Her father died that year. Her fifth child, Nick, was born the year after. Life resumed. As if it was an ordinary thing to have been struck by lightning.
Paradigm shifts are like that. One moment we are in one place, and in the next we’ve been altogether struck by another impetus. A single phone call may do it. A letter. The letters that have hurt the most in one’s life are those that outright declare an end to things. It is like receiving news of death; it feels so unalterable. And that was what happened to M’Lady Nancy, over 61 years ago; she heard over the radio that her beloved father, the well known Peer of The Realm, had died at his desk of a heart attack. Half an hour later her brother, Pat, phoned to confirm the news. But the lightning strike and the heart’s blow to her psyche of her Daddy’s death were unrelated, unconnected, disjointed, and separate events.
Life is like that. It is us that make meanings out of it; that seek connections. Australia, or stay in England? Immigrate to Canada? Choice! We love to parse the particulars, sift the chaff, find the kernels, and declare there’s gold in them-thar instances. The thing is, there is, there is! But not all that glitters is gold.
The pelican on the billabong sailed by in a most stately manner. Above it on the bank two sacred ibis stared down. On the opposite shore three spoon-bills sipped at the soup of the slowly drying pond. But there is evidently sufficient water yet, despite these heated days of the high plus 30’s. There is a delicate dove ducking around with a great gelled looking spike atop itself. There are red and grey parrots, large as owls, garbed like clowns. And the magpies, so different from Canadian ones, are like black and white police cars chasing the other birds about. But I am looking from the inside out; these birds and the day parades past our windows. And in the late afternoon the curtains get shut against the glare of the sun.
Ontological instincts would make meaning of all that. Like that cockroach I saw two nights ago and kept quiet about. I could not chase it. I am in no condition to go clobbering it. I did search for a glass in hope of trapping it, sliding a paper under the lip, and setting it free, but I knew it would just jolly well invite itself in again. Then M’lady came across it in the kitchen this afternoon. Unceremoniously she whacked it to death. Zoroaster would turn in his grave. So too might the ancestors of the lamb, the salmon, the beef, the pork, the prawns, and the beets. Well, not the beets, surely! But one eats and lives and breathes in balance with everything, or not. Have a top up? We are not immobilized by the enlightening.
Whenever the phone rings M’Lady has a startle response. It is as though there is no warning whatever of the very shrillness of the ring. And people have to raise their voices, even across a table, so the delicacy of tone and variegations of pitch that might attend one’s usual habits of speech now feel delivered like estranged lightning bolts. One needs be clear. Like not seeing double anymore. Like not waiting to have one’s sensibilities undermined. Like being physically able to be in the fields. Like sailing in water, free.