Anatomy of listening: Gold

These encounters I am lucky enough to participate in, somehow are suspended somewhere until I find myself one afternoon peopled again. It’s like a kind and benevolent haunting of memory. Often these stories are written at the moment just after an encounter. Then I wait. This was two years ago, and one afternoon a few weeks ago I was visited by this memory more than once, and when the ghosts of memory appear more than once, I take notice. So I am thankful for each encounter through my work, because each person leaves a trace that one day comes back to keep me company. The details of this meeting have been changed slightly with respect to those I met.

Before I enter the room I wash my hands, dry them and look into the room. I see two people, one in the bed and one beside. In that moment something begins to listen in me. Through the bleeping of machines and disinfectant, someone coughing loudly two doors down and a person shuffling alongside briefly. I stand at the threshold of the door.

It feels still and cavernous somehow, and the patient and her partner seem so far away as I walk towards them. I walk into a particular feeling thats been there a while. It feels with each step towards them, I acclimatise to a sadness and begin to wonder what may come. I walk forward, slowly.

Both of their eyes look with a softness and tenderness that I can only recognise that comes with grief. Any shells of pretence has fallen away by the weight of worry. Grief is gravity’s weight, and grief is suspension, both up and everywhere, and down and nowhere. Another paradox, always paradoxes.

The life that was there before has left only a small trace of who you might have been. You look into the mirror to see if by some miracle you will find your own self, looking straight at you, perhaps that’s the relief you might wish for in the drugs they give you to keep you alive. Something familiar amongst the swirling uncertainty has made its home around you. But there is tenderness here. Sometimes I see people touch their face to feel if they are still here.

I sit with you and your partner in the expansive quiet together and introduce myself. I can see on your face that whatever words I have, they must be carefully chosen, felt deeply before being spoken, as everything seems to hurt you right now. The skin of this self now is painfully porous. My words, I fold around my mouth for a while till the shape of a small bird appears rattling against the roof of my mouth, an origami carefully folded ‘hello’ flies out.

I introduce myself, and I try and trust this bird to fly and land where it needs to, and let it carry within it no demand, no edge, but softness and space. I feel that any positivity I conjure for the sake of masking the depth of despair that’s here, knowing that place where we humans unravel when life falls apart, the only place left is rigorous honesty, you can sniff it a mile off if that’s absent and a curtain of pretence has risen up in the shape of a taut smiley face.

Gilles Deleuze speaks of when we are “riddled with pointless talk, insane quantities of words and images”, the challenge is to search for “little gaps of solitude and silence in which [to] find … the rare, and even rarer thing that might be worth saying”.

I trust this silence, the sharing of it, I am cautious of trying to help for my need not yours, I watch each rising wave of wanting to do something. I watch it like a hawk. I let it fly through me and try to trust this being together. I am trembling a little as we all are – really deep down under our personal competencies, when the rubble of our life is around our ankles and we are just about standing, covered in dust. 

A bright yet charged energy moves through me, and, as best I can I slow it all down.

After some time we speak about music. You choose some. Slow guitar, mind of medieval sound. Theres the pluck of strings then the gaps where you hear a melody rise and form.

You start to cry, your partner places a hand on your upper back, I ask you how that is, and if you can feel that support, that warmth. We wait here, your partner closes his eyes and rests alongside you.

We wait here. Letting in what can be let in. A resting together.

I start rocking, slowly tipping side by side to the music, its like my body decided it needed to move.

I move my fingers just gently, and that movement disrupts your downturned gaze, and for a moment you look up. There is sky above, but the weight of grief has a different gravity, so much so that there is only the presence of weight, of heavy limbs, of the pull of earth. Your dressing gown looks too big around the arms, maybe thats best; a shelter of sorts.

The trees outside are blowing and I bring that in. ‘Its wild out there.’ I say..

I reference that energy, so to let any remembrance of that may touch her somehow. The elements speak to aliveness sometimes, sometimes the wind can blow you back into yourself, into your body.

If I could I would peel down the hospital wall and let the sky and wind and rain and glimmers of broken light hold the un-holdable with you, the company of the elements can do that sometimes. Rain can be the best company some days. The way it falls on your head and your face, has a way of saying ‘yes you are here – you are alive, because you can feel me’

She looks down.

Both her hands are on her belly, and I invite her to notice them, warmth, comfort.. she nods and smiles a fraction after the word comfort.

There’s enough, perhaps, to feel a trace of it, or something that comes in the shape of comfort, so can be felt in the middle of the sorrow, like the cool blue part of a flame.

We sit in silence, her partner by now looks in deep relaxation, resting alongside her. Is he sleeping. He is exhausted, I imagine?

We sit in silence and I have my hands on my belly and I gently move.

So I move somehow to keep one element in the field of awareness moving. It feels necessary and I check if she minds

It feels at times I am moving something that’s unable to. Or that keeping something moving keeps the aliveness just here.

It’s small but necessary.

After some time I invite her: should she wish to be curious about a colour, entering where her hands are.. 

What would it be like…

I mention a few colours, yellow, white, and gold- she nods to gold.

We sit in silence, and I imagine that gold around the 3 of us.

This story didn’t really finish, they never really do. I left the room after some time that day.

Golden, Gold. 

Two years later or thereabouts, I am taking a moment in my day, I catch the sight of this bowl I have in the window, it’s gold. The light falling in, and with that, this encounter weaves it way back through the labyrinth of my body and the ghost of memory comes knocking once… twice… 

I think this may not be about being able to conjure hope, or help ‘change’ something. It is tempting to help, but often that can be like willing a caterpillar to be a butterfly quicker, mostly because we cant bear looking at the way its legs move, or we cant bear this slow process of it breaking open into its other form, but theres a reason the butterfly moves like that, pushes against its temporary home, slimes about in its emergence, because that takes time, and every gesture from inside that dark place is needed to cross the threshold into the next bit of being, whether it grows any wings or not.

For health to emerge in any small way I guess all the other parts need to be welcomed, sitting alongside despair, hopelessness, respectfully giving despair enough room so It can stretch its legs out, it can lean on the table and knock over the vase with the flowers you didn’t want and weep in broken company. There can be relief in that.

Perhaps it’s as simple and complex as that.

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