I only knew my father was eternal once he’d died. As a child I’d sobbed when told at primary school that smokers’ days were numbered, and Dad had held my hand with yellowed fingers and told me, through his nicotine-sweet breath not to worry about it. I’d howled as a teenage girl when walking on graves in Walberswick and he’d stopped us in our tracks and pointed downwards, wryly telling me that he’d soon be there among the best of them. He seemed wistful and amused, but I was horrified. When it happened, and I saw his shell laid out in cloths and under candles, I knew he had not really gone. He was, invisibly, still with me, still laughing and still keeping time, still seeing through the sham and pointing fun at life’s absurdities.
Unlike my father, and in spite of my obsession with music, rhythm, flow, and pulse, I have never had a knack for temporal solutions, and rarely arrive in good time for trains. As a child I could play threes against twos, but had no idea how long it took to pack a suitcase or to write a letter. Temporality weirdly eluded me. In those days I assumed I had an esoteric insight of another sort, since the outward world was insubstantial to me. Perhaps a touch of my mother’s supernaturalism had rubbed off. I barely saw the things around me, walked into lampposts, and fixed my mind on something sensed, something as volatile as my father’s turpentine, and (I hoped) as spiritual. He, of course, would have laughed at the very notion.
Breathing in deeply, the younger me inhaled experience, while my father mixed his dose of life with ice and soda and swallowed hard. He had no problem with Reality. My own head-on collision with the latter, when brutally deflowered by a teacher, nevertheless drove me beyond lager-and-lime at the Lamb and Flag, to Turkish cigarettes behind the bike sheds. At 18 I was on the Camel Filters and by 20 I was rolling my own. Since I was following in Dad’s footsteps as a smoker this could barely be counted as rebellion, and with a trusted teacher as a boyfriend, I was counted exemplary in obedience. Those were sad days, when I emerged from childhood, and sensed the ‘shades of the prison house’ fastening around me.
Midlife has made up for the confusions of my childhood, and monasticism purged me of the aversions I experienced towards Real Life as a young woman. I still miss the incarnate presence of my painter father, although I know his spirit is never far away. He whispers and nudges to me from the wings of life. He even helped me grow wings of my own. I am no eagle, but I regularly still take flight. In mind – if not in body – I can be a million miles from anywhere. Perspective is everything, as Dad taught me, and from where I’m standing I can only give thanks that there is so much of beauty still to see, so much gift and goodness to celebrate and encompass.