<i>I went down to the place
Where I knew she lay waiting
Under the marble and the snow
I said, Mother I'm frightened
The thunder and the lightning
I'll never come through this alone
She said, I'll be with you
My shawl wrapped around you
My hand on your head when you go
And the night came on
It was very calm
I wanted the night to go on and on
But she said, Go back to the World
This is the first verse of Leonard Cohen’s <i>Night Comes On</i>. I feel the lyrics deep within. They force me to face the longing I have felt most my life. Although I lost my mother when I was 18 she had disappeared long before through an avid appreciation of alcohol. Unlike the mother in the verse she has no gravestone of marble to mark the presence she once carried on earth. It was not her desire.
Several years back, acting on my own desire, I created a shrine in the mountains where I could go and visit her. It was not that I needed a place to praise or show respect; I needed instead a place to rage and call her out on her behaviour. I did this for many years. Sometimes I could feel her presence: a wall of denial, a victim pointing the finger back at me; but other times there was only the quiet stillness of the forest, one that held the space, accepting my need for expression.
Over time I stopped visiting the memorial. I moved on to other paths and the need to vent slowly leeched away. This morning, however, the need to see her, visit her; feel her presence, was overwhelming. I followed the inner calling.
The first thing I noticed as I entered the forest was that my old trail had corroded. It was never well used but now it was cluttered with debris: branches, fallen trees, and large rocks that made the steep gravelly slope more treacherous than enjoyable. I chose another route, one farther down the mountainside. This trail paralleled the one of old but was longer, less direct and had other points of call. I had taken it years before but it too had changed. Countless feet had smoothed the way and trees were now marked with blazing orange tags.
I missed the old way and soon got off this newcomer and transversed the slopes back to the original line. It wasn’t hard to find. I had been up and down this trail over a hundred times: it was like a homecoming. I saw the boulder I used to pretend a bear was behind and where I expressed my inner rage by hitting broken branches against it. I noticed how many branches lay upon the ground inviting me to vent. I passed by remembering how, years ago, I would always run out of these make shift weapons.
My way leveled out and I spied the remains of summer flowering asters, arching the trail with delicate leaves and slender stalks. I loved this part of the path, it was an elfin like entrance to the shrine not far ahead.
I walked on. My feet went by memory singling out the irregular shaped stones and angled wood that remained in place from years gone by. All was familiar until I came to the washout. It had always been there but now heavy rains and rock fall had eroded it further: it was too dangerous to cross as I had in the past. Another soul had marked a trail that skirted up and around. I followed it as it safely led me over the debris and, ironically enough, above the shrine. The trail carried on, up and to my right but my destination was below. I cut back down.
It is funny how the washout only destroyed the trail just metres before my mom’s “resting place”. It meant that no one would pass in front of it, that the place was held in sanctuary. I skirted down the slope past ferns, rotting logs and hemlock saplings. The old path was still there but unused. The log I used to sit on calmly waiting.
I spoke to her then. It is not the first time we have talked since I stopped visiting her memorial. I have spoken to her many a time in the comforts of my home and security of my journal but it was different being back to the place where so much was said, so much expressed. I told her how my need had motivated the visit; how Leonard Cohen had inspired me. I didn’t realize her presence until I belatedly felt the warmth. I should have been cold or at least cool in the early morning shadows of the forest. Instead what I felt was as if a shawl had wrapped around me. I knew she was there.
I am a firm believer in magic. I trust in the twists and turns of life that brighten the eye, whisper music in the ear and sensitize the touch. I believe in trails that disappear one day and return another and trees that warn and protect if only you listen. I also see magic in the everyday encounters with people on the street, in stores, and afar from a seat on the bus. I know if I open my heart to experience the energy I transform, however quietly, however dramatically.
I also know that some folk will place my experiences with mom in a pretty box labeled projections of self healing and forgiveness. And yes, sure, that analysis is true, the outer always reflects the inner. But I also know it is not so much about forgiveness or letting go of the past as much as holding out my hand to the future.
In reaching out to mom I don’t assume to know why she did the things she did or that she was only “doing her best”. We all do things we regret and, sometimes, we don’t act with integrity at the times most needed. What I do know is that I am willing to be supported by her today as much as if she was alive and sober and opening her arms.
Maybe it is easier to make amends and new commitments when communing with the dead. Then again, perhaps not, it took over thirty years to get this far. The bottom line is I don’t want to shut her out anymore. I want her shawl wrapped around me and her hand on my head … and that, because I have asked for it, is what I shall have.