Can you believe this blue? There are plenty of theories about why Mount Gambier’s Blue Lake is blue but I won’t bore you with the details. As far as I can tell, you might as well ask why the sky is blue!
Science is all well and good but I’m not its greatest fan if it becomes the be-all and end-all of everything. I think our lives need a little mystery, and some things require no ferretting about after answers. Like love.
‘How do you explain love?’ I once asked a scientifically-minded friend when he was waxing scientific.
‘Love?’ He began to squirm and quickly changed the subject to something more scientific.
(I hate to admit this but I recently saw a television program about oxytocin and it looks like science might be dangerously close to explaining love as a hormone or molecule or something similar. I will remain an unbeliever. Love has to be more complex and mysterious than science can possibly define.)
Flying into Mt Gambier for my sister-in-law’s funeral, I looked down from the plane and saw these huge, circular fields—or paddocks as we call them in Australia. (These are actually in the US state of Montana.) I’ve flown over some beautiful patchwork fields in Europe. But circles? Round fields?
I was suddenly, crazily, elated. I thought of UFO’s, and those mysterious flattened crop circles that have appeared all over the world. I thought of Stonehenge. But as we came into land, I realised my green circles were irrigated paddocks, shaped by the reach of a central sprinkler arm. So much for mystery!
Still, it did make me wonder about the roundness of things. Like why we generally don’t have round paddocks and beds, computer screens and cars. And why round shapes without all those hard angles and edges seem so much more endearing. And mysterious.
Like the Blue Lake. Like breasts and bottoms. Like the sun and moon. Our spinning earth. Like tree-huggers. And cuddles. And tears before they become runny. Like woolly sheep. And cats curled in baskets. And dimples on a smiley face.
I met a number of people at Gusti’s funeral who were round. An aunt I hadn’t seen for years had aged into a little round pudding—think Lemon Delicious or Lemon Sago. A man whose back was bent into a question mark by hard work on his farm. Another man who grew liliums in his back yard and won prizes for his needlepoint tapestries. He wasn’t exactly round but there was a feeling of roundness about him.
Mouths are round if you laugh, or kiss, or cry, or sing. At the funeral I discovered Lutherans like a good hymn. We sang ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’ and ‘What A Friend’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’. I couldn’t help noticing how much better I felt afterwards. Everyone kissing and embracing. A good laugh. A good cry. A good sing.
There’s not enough singing these days. In my parents’ time, people used to whistle while they worked and sing in the garden and around the piano–if you were lucky enough to have one–or around the wireless at night. But once Big Science invented vinyl and television we started listening to other people singing and we lost the bliss that comes from lifting up our voices in song—which scientists would probably tell us releases oxytocin or some other endorphin, but do we really care?
Gusti’s son came from Austria for his mother’s funeral. He’s a lovely young man and it was particularly hard for him which made me think about the roundness of mothers. (Not all mothers are round but, like the man with the liliums, generally mothers have a feeling of roundness.)
The late Canadian poet, Alden Nowlan, celebrates the roundness of things in one of my favorite poems. It has the very long title, ‘He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded’. I could include the whole poem, I love it so much, but it not only has a long title, it’s also a very long poem (almost a short story!) which you can find on the Web if you are poetically inclined.
Alden Nowlan had a tragic childhood. He was an orphan who knew at the age of eleven that he wanted to be a prophet. Yes, a prophet! How amazing is that? He became a poet instead which is probably close enough.
As the title suggests, Alden’s poem is about a man sitting on a floor with a retarded girl, but of course it’s also about other important things like the Meaning of Life.
…I put my arm around her…and she snuggles closer. I half-expect / someone in authority to grab her / off me: I can imagine this being remembered / forever as the time the sex-crazed writer / publicly fondled the poor retarded girl. / “Hold me,” she says again. What does it matter / what anybody thinks? I put my arm around her, / rest my chin in her hair, thinking of children, / real children, and of how they say it, “Hold me,” / and of a patient in a geriatric ward / I once heard crying out to his mother, dead / for half a century, “I’m frightened! Hold me!” / and of a boy-soldier screaming it on the beach / at Dieppe…
And later in the poem: …it’s what we all want, in the end / not to be worshipped, not to be admired / not to be famous, not to be feared / not even to be loved, but simply to be held…
At Gusti’s funeral, we held my brother and we held her son. We are still holding them, my brother on his farm with his cattle and Gusti’s son now back in Austria with his family.
The day after we arrived home in Melbourne, we received the most exciting news. My nephew’s son had become a father for the first time, which meant my nephew was now a grandfather and my brother a great-grandfather!
How often do you hear of this happening in families? One life is taken and a new one is given. Amongst the sadness and loss there is renewal and hope. I’m sure it’s to do with the mysterious roundness of things.
Welcome, Thomas Francis McCourt, to this big, round, wonderful (and often difficult) world. May your life be full of joy and meaning and mystery.