Wednesday, January 11, 2012


She was seven or maybe even eighteen years younger when I first met her. I was busy working on a very large oil painting on a friend's deck on Denman Island, off the west coast of Canada. That late afternoon's sunset I climbed a golden cliff face up to her from the shore of the mile wide Lambert Channel. Calibra, my kayak, lay outlined like a dark torpedo up on a high rock way down below. Rugby legs, she called me. Twenty years ago. She was visiting her cousin, a war-bride, who still dwells on Denman. And now, this coming April, that same Nancy is about to turn 90. Lady Nancy Sinclair, my letters to far off Australia are addressed. Thirty years my senior, petite, blue eyed, blonde haired, she had had five children of her own. Yet somewhere in our very first meeting on that Kluane deck there grew a kismet between us that has reached across the distance and across time, and our communication has been frequent, steady, reciprocal. She at first returned every three or four years; once stood for me as my Matron of Honor; but of late her health has prohibited the long flight. And I've never been able to get to Australia. In the meantime, Lady Nancy, without intention, has taught me the fine art of letter writing.

How, where, why, what, when, who, and please tell me more are the touchstones of her paragraphs. There is hardly a sentence I can write without her remarking in some way about it, her asking me for more, or her letting me know that she can relate. Still, in the years and years' turning of the handwritten pages we have not yet discussed the death of Ramses, the relevance of the X-Files, and the likes of Gillian Anderson. Amazing how things are interconnected. Amazing how way leads on to way. Denman Island was so much more than just Passing Through. I happened to be there the day Ramses arrived.

Esoteric references are indeed mostly understood by the initiated. All the more reason to ask questions. The value of intimate letter writing is that one hardly need clarify who 'M' is, since both reader and writer are familiar. And like any good James Bond movie, the mind is full of imagery that fills in the blanks, so that when the Penny drops, we know at least one of the Bonds will be there to catch her. But it is in asking what may otherwise be overlooked, or what led to the penny being dropped, or how Ramzes and the X-Files get to configure here, in the first instance, that real reciprocity is invited.

The vitality of our Lady persists. Her twin brother, Denys Street, was one of the famous fifty trying The Great Escape. And Lady Nancy has not just that sad event, but so many other tragedies to relate as well. Yet all is done in a spirit of forgiveness, compassion, integration, understanding of the times, of history, and of the ways of man. And so, for Lady Nancy, there is no shriveling up, there is a perpetual interest in things other than the self, in things beyond our ken. It is in making things interesting that we are defined.

So when I write, or respond, I have Lady Nancy's lessons trotting like black Ramses about me. It's a point of reciprocity; it's about taking an interest in things sufficient to inquire, rather than expecting life to enquire after you. That's even what the great black himself did, one early sunrise in 2006 on Denman's Xenophon farm. He whickered softly, came over to where I practiced my lines for Tuesdays with Morrie, and nudged with his great black nose when I stopped. We give interest; it inspires others to go on.

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