“Affairs are now soul size” wrote Christopher Fry, the playwright, back in the fifties. Now, more than ever, does this seem true.
I have chosen this photo of my mother, age seventeen, as I have been thinking so much of her during this period of lockdown. One of the advantages of this time is that we have been given so much time to reflect, and that I think is a blessing.
My mother was Canadian, unmarried, and we were living in a convent pension in the tiny village of St-Jacut in Northern Brittany. We were very happy in our little enclosed world together, until in 1932 when I was four, my mother lost all her money in the great Depression. Penniless, and in a foreign country, what was she to do?
Mlle Abilly, the Mother Superior of the convent of l’Abbaye, like a true Christian, offered to look after me, initially for nothing, until my mother was able to find work. My mother, being naturally a good cook, was soon able to find work, and I was left with the nuns till I was seven.
It occurred to me, during this enforced period of ours, that for me this was another kind of lockdown. Here I was now, a small child of four, separated from the mother she adored, surrounded by women in long black dresses, mostly stern and serious if not downright gloomy, separated from her little friends, separated from her china doll which she also loved, bewildered and alone.
I had a moment of deep insight and at the same time I experienced a feeling of deep compassion for that small child.
And here I am now, at the age of ninety one, all those years later, and in another period of lockdown.
Undoubtedly I suffered from that experience. Something in me shut down and remained dormant for many years. I was reunited with my mother but our relationship had changed and was never the same again.
My mother worked hard to look after us both. She was an intelligent woman and she used her cooking skills by cooking in schools. We moved to England, she became a ‘lady cook-housekeeper’, the ‘lady’ was important to her, and my education was thrown in as part of her salary.
In the meantime I became a ‘bookworm’, I removed myself from the world and lived my life through books. I studied hard, I had a good memory, so I did very well in exams, as I was able to reproduce pretty accurately what I had been reading.
I gained a scholarship to a public school, and then went on to university where I ended up by getting a First Class degree. My mother was very proud of me at that point, as she naturally wanted me to do well in life. I began to think that I was very clever and, of course, knew much better than my mother.
My mother was still working her socks off to keep us both, and by now she had moved to a small hotel in Stratford-on-Avon.
She was a very sensitive woman, mercurial in temperament, and sometimes she would break down in tears, upset by something which had happened. I remember over the years feeling very embarrassed by my mother. As a child we naturally want to fit in, and I somehow knew we did not ‘fit in’. I was unable to offer my mother the support she needed in those times.
I remembered a time when we were in Stratford, I was at university and during the holidays I worked as a waitress in the hotel. My mother had an assistant in the kitchen, domestic science trained, a rather starchy woman. She was very disapproving of my mother, not trained but with a natural flair, and who did not always follow the rules. She must have complained about my mother to the owner of the hotel. I have been thinking about this episode, and how impervious I was to my mother’s distress at that time.
I feel shame again, and I ask my mother’s forgiveness. I know that I was unable at that time to do anything else.
Why am I talking about this now?
My mother and I were never able to become really close again, something which I now deeply regret. We did live together and I looked after her till she died.
Since she died my relationship with my mother has changed. In my forties I found a spiritual path, which I have followed ever since. I have been able to make peace with who I was at the time, and know that I was loved by my mother and that I loved her.
This period of lockdown has brought up many things for us all: much sorrow, much hardship, struggles and tests; at the same time it has brought up courage, love and kindness, many stories of bravery which have touched our hearts. It has shown the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity. It has also highlighted the injustice there is in the world, brought about by ourselves.
My mother used to tell me that, as a child, I had an imaginary companion, a Beautiful Being dressed in beautiful clothes. I had long conversations with Him, which I used to relate to her. She would laugh as I told her, very earnestly, that He said ‘everything would be all right in the end.’
At the end of a long life, with many ups and downs and varied experiences, I know that the only answer to this mystery of what we call Life is to find love in our hearts. There are many reasons why that love might have become distorted or twisted, lost altogether, yet it is always there, no matter how small. There are many ways of experiencing this love, as many as there are individuals, and all of them are good. The labels don’t matter, it is the heart of them that does.
If we love each other, then we will care for each other, and we will care for our world, this very beautiful earth on which we live, which nourishes us and protects us.
I go back to that original message which I received a small child, and that is: “Everything will be all right in the end.”
Believe me. it will.