Monday, June 17, 2013

Gladney's Story

I have a friend called Gladney Oakley, a dear friend whom I knew for years before he died something like twelve or fifteen years ago. He was one of those quiet, deep people who are real-world mystics: in and of the world, but bringing a quiet gentleness to it, and working under the radar. The kind of person who never sought publicity or acknowledgement (as, sadly, I do), but just went about the business of improving the world in a calm silence. He is still with me and around me on a regular basis - he is, in fact, one of my favourites in my tribe of non-physical friends.
He's been hanging around me for a while today, and reminded me of a story he once told me when my daughter was a baby, so probably twenty years ago.
The story was of a man, and I always strongly suspected the man was him, but he never said so or gave the man a name.
The man was born, and grew up. He had a wife and a couple of kids, and ended up with a house, a dog, a garden, and a few backyard hens (okay, so he told me this story at some stage after I started keeping backyard hens).
He and his wife had the odd fight, but they rubbed up well enough against each other to describe the marriage as happy.
He got irritated with his kids occasionally and yelled at them unjustly, but the kids always knew that he loved them.
And the dog just adored him all the time.
All in all, he had every reason to consider himself a modest success in life.
The man had never been inclined towards mechanical maintenance, paying professionals to look after his car etc. In particular, he hated his lawn-mower. He was always running it over rocks and ruining the blades, or flooding the carby, or getting grass into the fuel tank when refuelling, or otherwise harming it. And the lawn-mower returned his lack of understanding with active malevolence. In particular it kept breaking down even when he hadn't neglected or harmed it, just out of spite.
As the years passed, he grew to loathe it more and more, until after many years he got a hold of an old-fashioned scythe and scythed the worst of the grass down. He also partitioned his land up into a number of very small fenced sections and kept his hens penned up in one section at a time until they over-grazed the section they were in, removing every trace of green from the ground before he moved them on. This lessened the amount he had to mow with the mower that hated him.
But much though he wanted to love his hens, he just couldn't look after them properly. Not being a very manual man, every chook-shed he built for them collapsed in high winds, just when the hens needed their shelter most. He neglected his fence-line, and his hens were always finding holes and gaps, squeezing through, wandering out onto the suburban road, and getting hit by cars. He had no idea, either, that you needed to treat them for worms and birdlice infestations, and they were itchy and sickly all the time.
Frustrated by these two areas of ineptitude in his life, he sat down one day when his grand-children were asleep and all was quiet, and lit a candle. He dropped himself into a trance, fronted up to his secret inner soul, and made a deep and serious promise.
He vowed a permanent and sacred vow that in his next life he'd get the small-machine thing right, and be able to maintain his mower and any other machines that came his way.
He grew old, as we all do, and as we all do, he watched his children and grandchildren grow into capable adults. There came a time when he was no longer needed in the world even by those who loved him, and his body was getting just too old and uncomfortable to live in any more. So one night, he put himself to bed, fell into his last sleep, and dreamt his last dream. He never woke again, and when his old wife was asked about it, she said she found him with a contented smile on his face, the smile of a man who had lived a good life, done what he had to do, and died a good death at the right time.
Somewhen, not very far away, a little baby boy was born. He grew up greatly loved - his young mother said that when she first met his eyes a few moments after the birth, he looked at her with the compassion and wisdom of a saint or a very wise old man. But after that moment, he was just a little baby boy, and did all the things baby boys did and none of the things they didn't do.
As he grew, he turned out to love first dogs, then all animals, then all of the world. As a young man he was sometimes selfish, but as time passed he left behind the friends and lovers who brought drama into his life, and stuck by those who were as peaceful as he was. In time he married, then bought a small house on a bit of land. He put up a shed in the backyard, and put a few laying hens there - he had wanted hens all his life, he didn't know why. He put up another shed, and put a lawn-mower and some tools into it.
He took an interest in machinery, and learnt to look after his own machines, repairing and servicing his own car, lawn-mower and so forth, even fixing things like toasters. Everyone in the neighbourhood started bringing him machinery - completely untrained, he still seemed to be able to fix anything no matter what. His special forte was lawn-mowers - he could take a rusted wreck and make it purr like a kitten as it flattened jungles into velvety lawn.
But his hens! The poor little things. He didn't seem to be able to store their supplementary grain in such a way as to dissuade the rats. He couldn't prevent them from growing ill, or escaping and being injured. He had the best of intentions, but although he was regarded as the nicest man anyone who knew him had ever met, he just couldn't have happy hens no matter how hard his tried.
But his lawn-mower was always perfect!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Moving Around

Like many shared-interest groups, the Tarot community is friendly bunch of miscellaneous people, an every so often I might make the effort to travel to meet up with people. Last year I met up with someone whom I'll call, for convenience, Lutestring. She packed a few decks from her collection that I wanted to see, jumped on an interurban train, and came up to my part of the world.
We went out to lunch, pored over the decks we had brought, went back to my place afterwards. I was sharing the house at the time with a guy who cleaned roofs for a living, and as it was a day with good weather, he was up on a rooftop somewhere in the city where she had come from. When she came back to mine, she would have met up with his animals, a dog and two cats.
During the day, the range of conversation would have covered him to some extent, especially as once she came back to my place there was a risk of them meeting. She was delightful, he was delightful, and I could really see them as a couple. Both of them were single at the time, I was happy to encourage them gently together. I made some comment to the effect that if she stayed a bit longer he'd turn up, and I'd drive her back home later so as to save her the train trip. It turned out that she'd had her roof professionally cleaned recently, and it was actually cleaned by him and his offsider.
He rang me about something-or-other during the afternoon, and during the conversation I mentioned that I had a guest, someone I thought he'd probably like if he met her. I said it was a previous client of his. I could hear him smiling down the phone as he said he'd try to get away a little early.
As time passed, though, Lutestring wanted to get back home, so we got into the car and set off. We were barely three kilometres from home when I saw a skinny figure on a small red motorbike heading towards my home - it was him. I offered to turn around and go back home, but she was happy to continue onwards to her place.
When we got onto the freeway and the driving became faster but boring, we talked, and I smelled a burning-oil smell that in that particular car always caused me a degree of angst but didn't cause me any mechanical difficulties before I parted with the car.
Her place was in a suburb of Sydney called Wahroonga: grimy, older, with quite a few fairly sad-looking trees. We found her house, which was a treasure-trove of Tarot decks, fabric, books, and old stuff. She was a market-hound - I liked her even better. At about the time we arrived my mobile rang: it was him, at home, asking where I and the guest were. When I said that she had wanted to get back home and I'd driven her down to Wahroonga, he sounded disappointed, as he had every right to be if he'd left work specially. 
Eventually, after a very nice cup of tea, I decided that I probably needed to go home, so I said farewell to her and her big, fluffy cat, and drove home. When I walked in the door he was still awake, something of a minor miracle at that stage of his life. He made me a cup of tea as soon as I walked in without even being asked - some people are treasures - and asked me about my day: where we'd been, what we'd said and done, how it was.
Amongst other things, I talked about her house, and he remembered cleaning its roof immediately: he referred to it as a "crumbling mansion", a humorous and affectionate term that I've been using for her house ever since. He talked about the pitch of its roof and the type of its tiles, and about how she was a delightful woman.
As the months passed I neglected Lutestring. My housemate was seriously ill, and getting sicker. He worked fewer days and spent more days in bed, often unable to toilet himself or shower himself without help, unable even to open the fridge sometimes, he was so weak. And you've got to give the man points: every day he felt even the slightest vestigial strength he'd go over to Kanwal to his ex's place, to work on building decking on her house for her, no matter what the consequences for his health would be in the days following such a heroic effort. He'd do anything for anyone, no matter how sick he was, if he could move at all.
Over this period of time I spent much more time at home: he really needed professional nursing, but he was never going to ask for it, and he needed at least my amateurish help to get him fed, hydrated, cleaned and toileted. I not only didn't see Lutestring, I didn't see a whole raft of people.
Last year, I'd had a vision of myself doing a private death ritual for him on the 3rd April. I told a couple of people I'm close to about it in around December or January - I never mentioned it to him at all. I just told him that he had a date for the 4th April - we were going to watch sunrise together that day.
On the 2nd of April, he haemorrhaged badly. I rushed him to hospital, and one of the staff offhandedly told me I did the right thing to drive him in, as if I'd waited that extra twenty minutes or so for the ambulance to turn up he would have bled out. So if I had been less attentive, I would indeed have found myself doing a death ritual on the third. After a few days he came home, and had one night and one day at home, talking about making a will, who he wanted to get what, how he wanted his animals cared-for and where he wanted them living (more to the point, where he didn't want them living), and so on.
The second night, he haemorrhaged again, and didn't survive beyond the 14th, despite the high level of care he received. I texted his stepdaughter over and over trying to get her and her sisters there, and I kept telling him that I expected the girls to walk in at any time, but they apparently didn't get any messages from me for all of the twelve hours that I was whispering to him they'd be turning up any minute, and when my eyes were constantly at the door. I thought that was all very sad for him.
Eventually the inevitable happened, and a part of the inevitable happening was that I no longer had to be at home all the time in case he needed me, I could start to go out sometimes just for fun, and I could even sleep deeply and sleep all night, without having to listen for subtle sounds of distress through the walls.
And Lutestring got in touch! We arranged a couple of times to meet, and both times things came up, but eventually I made it down there to meet up with her on her territory. We lunched at a lovely place that was part-cafĂ©, part second-hand shop, laughing and talking. I didn't want her to ask after my flatmate, so I told her what had happened pretty quickly, and her eyes filled with tears, especially when I explained the circumstances of when I last saw him.  
She told me that when he cleaned her roof, he'd told her about winning the costume prize for his Green Man suit - he was intuitive enough to realise she'd understand immediately - and I told her about the night he won it, coming home on an impulse instead of sleeping in his car down there, letting himself in at four-ish in the morning, coming into my room and perching himself awkwardly and self-consciously on the edge of my bed and telling me about the night, showing me the prizes, telling me about the four women who had made passes at him (and whom I'd brutally said would have dropped him like a shot as soon as the suit came off!). Then the conversation turned, as it does, to other things.
Afterwards, she dragged me through her favourite op-shops. I loathe and detest shopping, but I can just tolerate open-air markets and op-shops. In the first one I drew a blank, but in the second I did very well indeed: lots of candlesticks, and two carved wooden fetish-figures that looked Papuan to me: a male one that looked a lot like my late housemate and the other one female and looking a lot like me! The contrast in their physiques in particular matched us. I had to buy them, and they were only 50c each, a quarter of a cup of coffee for both of them.
I was glad that at lunch I'd had a coffee made the way he liked them, and a slice of carrot cake, his special treat. The whole day he was never far away, laughing, smiling, being in her mind or mine with his humour and his gentleness. I even told her his doorknob story, because I felt that he would have told her if he'd been there.
When Lutestring and I meet up again, it could be on her territory or mine, but I know we will again, and I know we will laugh and talk. It is good to be free of looking after an ill person, free to move around and do things for myself without worrying or being called back by emergency phone calls. And it was also good to meet up with someone as gentle and kind as Lutestring. There can never be too much gentleness in the world, and that's why I'd originally recognised potential for the two of them: they are both incredibly gentle people.