Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Ten

Sunday, 26 March, 1989
Day Ten, Easter Sunday

Odd thing at breakfast. For some reason they toast only white bread here, and put it out on toast racks to get cold, while the wheat bread sits in the basket untoasted. A couple days ago I located the toaster in the kitchen and as it worked like the kind we have at Coverdale* I’ve been nipping back to do myself some wheat toast, properly hot. This morning I took orders for some others at the table and came back to do them, seven slices in all. Jeannie Brownlea*, one of the older members of the MacLeod Center party, was back there on the same errand. I told her what I was there for and she said, "I’ve got six in here already. Is that enough?"

"No, I need seven."

"But I’ve got six in here."

"That’s all right, but I need seven. I’ll do more."

"There’s no more wheat bread."

"Oh. Well. Well, don’t worry about it. We’ll make do."

"Is six enough?"

"Well, we wanted seven . . . "

I haven’t recalled this word for word, I’m sure. The point is that she kept making all sorts of suggestions that simply ignored the mathematical realities (especially if she’d been planning any of the wheat toast she was making to go to her own table) and I could not make her understand otherwise.

Whereupon she rounds on me and says, "I think you hate me. I can tell these things and I really think you hate me."

The uncomfortable thing is that I am not entirely innocent of negative attitudes in her regard; she is in her late 60s or so and has the look of the kind of woman who appears in Presbyterianews as having loudly supported some outmoded and anti-Christian liberal cause at the last General Assembly. And I confess I find her hovering, birdlike intensity is a bit wearing. But I also know that many people who have at first struck me unfavorably eventually have been revealed as worthy of esteem. And even if not, "hate" is too personal, energised, and involved a word for her in this situation.

The joke is, that my "hating" her is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. For now I do want to avoid her, if only because she’s the uncomfortable type of person who takes a conversation onto a personal level in the most inappropriate circumstances. If she were my age I would tell her so. But because of her years I need to keep my distance-- and keep my mouth shut.

After breakfast somebody came in and said we were supposed to be doing toilets right then, just like yesterday and the day before. Not bloody likely. I have to get dressed for church.

Wore the gray corduroy skirt and the silk blouse, with silk longies under. Bright pink wool Shetland sweater over, but the only real concession I made to possible foul weather was donning my black suede boots instead of dress flats over my white WinterAlls stockings. Dammit, it’s Easter and I am not wearing my blue corduroy jeans to church. Especially because I am not feeling the impact of the occasion, it’s essential I keep up the ceremonies, to prevent me from degenerating entirely.

Karen* and Therese* conspired to put up my hair and I donned my blue silk Liberty scarf. When I assayed the makeup Karen* said, "Are you trying to seduce the priest?"

"I’m trying to figure out if there is a priest around here!" Three days of services already and I still don’t know who’s in charge.

More half-baked drama in the cloister beforehand, a somewhat silly updating of the Road to Emmaus story. But I expect that by now.

And there was actually a sermon during the service proper, by a big mucky-muck of the Community who came in from Glasgow or somewhere. Full of the meaning of Easter as it bore on all sorts of bad social and political situations. Not bad for its kind, very applicable and cogent, but I’m starving for some Scriptural exposition. Then he ended up referring to the Holy Spirit as "she" again and what could I do but put up with it?

To do him justice he did mention the plight of people around us, but I-- I feel I have no right to feel any hurt, having been in no wars and no long term deprivation . . . Not physically, at least. Marie* was talking last night (after she’d decided it was her fault Seamus* was acting like a jerk) about the need not to want things as we’d like them . . . Right. So let’s forget about loving or being loved and become Stoics or Buddhists. There is a Christian renunciation but how it works is a mystery to me.

I thought as hard as I could about Nigel*, down in S--, in church, maybe with Emily*? trying to cope with the rotten situation going on in his family, and I was thinking Bless him, bless him, O Lord; since I can receive no blessing, grace him with my share even now . . .

But more I am aware of Lukas*, and unavoidably think of the song "Easy to Be Hard":

How can people have no feelings?
How can they ignore their friends?
Easy to be hard,
Easy to be cold.

’Specially people who care about strangers,
Who care about evil, and social injustice!
Do you only care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?
I need a friend . . .

And here it is Easter, and there he is, one of three pairs who will administer the Sacrament, and here I am, feeling cold and dead and entombed still, wishing I were a million miles away. But I am gripped cruelly by the stranglehold of present reality, seeing that though we celebrate Christ’s resurrection every Easter, that each Easter I rise with Him less and less, till some time soon I will revive not at all and stay closed in the tomb forever.

And then, O God, the three pairs took up their stations and we were instructed to receive from those closest, and I was in the aisle seat in the crossing, and Lukas* and his partner were assigned to the crossing. I couldn’t convince myself that he hadn’t seen me sitting there, thus freeing me to receive down front. Doing it under his eye would have been a demonstration of personal feeling that even I, degenerate though I am, recognised to be dreadfully out of place.

So I was doomed to be where I was. I let many people into the line ahead of me, trying to put it off as long as possible. But it couldn’t be avoided.

The girl who was distributing the bread gave me much too big a piece. But I confess I probably would’ve choked on it anyway, however small, my mouth was so dry. There was no time to get it down before I’d stepped over and stood in front of-- whom? My friend? Don’t make miserable jokes. This time I won’t comprehend.

I didn’t want to look at him but I had to, to keep from dropping or spilling the chalice. And as I received the wine he stood there with his hands outstretched as if in blessing. And he looked straight into my eyes, the most intimate of smiles in his own, as if he were saying, "Take, drink, I share this with you!"

And I don’t know what mine said back, but they wanted to scream, "Lukas Renzberger*, are you trying to kill me? What is this mockery? You pretend to offer me Communion-- why can’t you maintain it in our daily lives?"

My misery was such that I could hardly stand. I felt very, precipitously, close to committing the unforgivable sin of falling down crying before him, as if somehow I could beg and plead the caring, considerate Coverdale* version of him to please, please take me in his arms and let me cry out all the hurt and turmoil-- not as prelude to any claim upon him, but as a support, till I could stand alone again.

But I controlled myself long enough to get back to my seat, though I couldn’t produce the words of the Communion hymn. I dared not cry; he was too close. I was too exposed.

Then the service was over and everyone went back out into the cloister. The fiddle played, the flutes piped, the little choir sang. And those who were moved to, danced around the daffodil-bedecked cross that had been placed against the Lipschitz sculpture at the cloister garth’s center. I stood there woodenly looking on, but forced myself to understand that if Lukas* should happen to see me there alone, he would probably conclude that I had come up to Iona just to be with him, and was refusing now to be with any other.

So I exerted myself to put on a social façade, a process aided by the suggestion? command? made inside the church that when the remains of the Communion bread went around we were to share it with someone we didn’t know. Fortunately I didn’t have to choose with whom in all that vast crowd of strangers I would share with; an abbey staff person named Fiona*-- I think she’s in the choir-- came up and offered me a bit of hers. There were enough safe topics to talk about there, so that was ok until I felt I’d put in my time and could leave.

There was a seminar afterwards, back at the Center. I was a good girl and went, though for a moment it threatened to be disastrous. The topic today was Joy, and the woman leading was eliciting things each of us were feeling joyful about. I was afraid we were going to have to go around and speak each in turn, and I was hovering so close to the surface of brutal honesty that I wouldn’t’ve made things very pretty.

But thank God, the discussion got off on the difference between joy and happiness, especially as it related to the case of the Tzubeki* family, who are here in Scotland studying in Edinburgh, and trying to get political asylum from South Africa. So Caroline Tzubeki* kept the floor most of the time, talking about life in Soweto, which I found a salutary distraction in more ways than one.

It’s a real temptation for me to want to say to her, "What are you complaining about? You’ve got your nice husband and your beautiful little girl. You don’t have to face your problems alone!" Which shows you what a selfish degenerate I’ve become, and where I think the answer to all my problems lies . . .

Wrote a poem about this morning at Communion during the seminar. Always helps, turning hurt into art. That is if it is art. Maybe that’s what I’ll find out if I can get a creative writing tutor next term. I don’t want my work merely to be the emotional and verbal equivalent of a trip to the toilet. And I’ve seen much so-called poetry that so obviously is.

Easter dinner was pleasant. Great triumph of sentiment over principle-- we had ham. And it was good ham, too.

And they’d scrounged some more construction lumber scraps to build the fire with. I know that’s full of creosote-causing preservatives and isn’t half so hotly-burning as coal, but it has the blessed advantage of being a heck of a lot easier on the nose and the lungs, especially as this fireplace here doesn’t draw worth a poop. (Practically brand-new and there’s soot all the way up the chimney breast.) This weekend’s the first time I’ve ever experienced a coal fire, and I regret to say that it smells like what we would at home call a very bad case of pollution. I can’t believe people put up with it.

But it was wood at dinner today, and that was a relief.

Yesterday evening in the laundry room the housekeeper told me that due to the Easter Monday bank holiday there’ll be only one bus across Mull tomorrow. And to get it we’ll have to catch the Iona ferry at 5:30 in the morning. At dinner, then, I discussed with one of the men here the possibility of hitching a lift with him across Mull a little later, since he brought his car as far as Fionnphort. He says it depends on whether the Mull to Oban ferry is running more than once tomorrow.

To me, it depends upon what Lukas’s* plans are, for in this I do want to accord my actions to his. Perhaps he just wants to spend all the time he can now with his new friends. But when everyone leaves there’s a chance we can have a nice companionable chat on the bus, my tensions towards him can be relaxed, and I won’t go off feeling as I did after I left him in Switzerland last December. And I might find out what happened in Liverpool. There is to be a ceildhe tonight here; I could make myself inquire casually after his plans then.

Wrote postcards to friends in the States after dinner. Funny, but I forgot to take them to the postbox at the abbey when I went over there to buy my obligatory Iona sweatshirt. Not 100% sure why I got one of those, but I did. Burgundy red, medium. And a detailed map of the island. It’ll help me label my slides later.

Still overcast but the wind has died down considerably today. So around four o’clock I set out to do a bit of the hillwalking I actually came to Iona for. Left my skirt on-- a romantic fancy, I suppose-- and simply pulled the blue hiking socks over my winter weight stockings.

Set off more or less to the west. I was actually aiming for the high point north of the MacLeod Center but the fences kept getting in my way. I am told that since this is National Trust land it’s ok to walk anywhere, but you’d never know it from the lack of gates and stiles. There were a lot of other people about, so if they could find ways through, so could I.

Going out was definitely a good idea. I don’t say anything so silly as that the necessity of choosing to which tussock or stone to step next puts one’s interpersonal problems into perspective. But the mental and physical occupation does blunt some of the emotional sting as you run over the problems in your head.

Thinking about it thus, it seems to me that the best explanation may be that Lukas* is one of those people who assigns others to specific times and places, and if a friend steps out of that frame they’re out of place and can legitimately be ignored. As soon as they put themselves back, all again is well. Because I cannot come up with anything I have done to offend him and I refuse to believe he’s being calculatedly mean. I do think he’s being thoughtlessly rude, though. And it doesn’t become him at all.

The barren yet varied landscape with its muted tones and textures played harmony to my overall melancholy, which thankfully was able to be expressed in music. Bless you, Lord, for allowing me my top notes and good wind today, so that I could produce a satisfactory and sustained sound despite the scrambling around I was doing. It was even more satisfactory in that after awhile, as I moved further inland, there was absolutely no one else around to hear me, except for the sheep. They paid strict attention, wanting to make sure this strange noisy creature meant them no harm, and they’d stop grazing and stare and stare until satisfied I was harmless.

Sur les monts les plus sauvages,
Que ne suis-je un simple pasteur?

I tried to sing some Easter hymns but I kept getting the verses scrambled. And so fell back on Berlioz and Schubert. Dear Hector! Why are you dead and gone? I think you would’ve so much enjoyed walking these hills . . . You might even have been able to deal with me. But thank God, your music goes with me, even if you cannot.

There’s so much amazing vegetation out on the moors. There is a lot of a low-growing evergreen sort of groundcover, whose new growth comes up red. And this soft black moss, like velvet, that grows on the rocks. I don’t know if its color comes from the peaty soil (i.e., it’d be green elsewhere) or if it is an example of planned symbiosis between plant and site. Whichever it is, it's marvellous in its subtle beauty.

I wandered as far as the sea at the Mhachair on the west side of the island. The sun was peeking in and out, laying silver bands of brilliance upon the water. Somebody had stamped his initials in the wet sand of the beach, which was a pity. But still I could enjoy the silence that was only augmented by the surging of the waves and the high mewling cries of the gulls.

It was getting up towards 6:00 by now but I wasn’t particularly concerned, since Summer Time came on last night. Still, I felt I’d better head back. Did indulge in a scenario of what if I were benighted and the gales came back and . . . But I decided it wouldn’t be feasible to perish out there tonight. I hadn’t any paper or pen with me to write and apologise to my mother for being such a bother-- and to thank Nigel* (in a discreet manner of course) for how good he’s been to me. As for Herr Renzberger*, he wouldn’t get any coverage, and good enough for him, too.

After awhile, though, increasing fatigue made undivided attention to picking my footing and making sure I was headed in the right direction supersede any such thoughts. The ground, understandably, was thoroughly soaked and two or three times, despite my best care, I slipped on grassy slopes and arose with a glaring souvenir of bog mud on my left side and back. (This was deliberate-- the right side, where I carry my cameras, must be protected.)

Thought I’d make for the beach on the north end of the island and follow it round to the road I took yesterday. But when I got up there I was further to the west of it than I thought and only steep rocks led to the sea. So I headed for the next landmark I knew, the great high point of the Dun, I think it’s called. Wanted to go up it before; now it was the best idea since from its top I’d be able to see the abbey and the Center and I’d know exactly where I was. And so I did eventually reach the summit, and added my stone to its cairn (no one has told me so, but that seemed like the proper thing to do).

Couldn’t stay up there admiring the view, though, for inevitably it began to rain. Straight down rain, thankfully, but not what you want to stand about in anyway. My shoes were long since thoroughly soaked and now the rest of me had a chance to join the party, if I didn’t get moving.

Carefully down the slope, through a few more bogs, across another burn or two, and then, finally, through a gate into a farmer’s field that was so thoroughly squelching with mud that there wasn’t any point in being careful about it. Then out the gate to the road and on through the rain to shelter as quickly as possible.

But I still had breath for what was important, and be hanged to any German-speakers who might hear me as I drew near to the abbey:

Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
Hast du mein Herz im warmer Liebe entzunden,
Hast mich in eine bessre Welt entrückt,
In eine bessre Welt entrückt!

It was past 7:30 when I got back. There was a wedding in the abbey church at 6:00 with a reception after that that everyone was invited to, which of course I’d missed. But I can go to weddings anywhere. Only in Scotland can I have the exquisite fulfillment of slogging through peat bogs and being a better person for the experience.

First item of importance, take a shower. Second thing, wash out the filthy shoes and clothes and put them in the drying room. And hope they’re ready to be packed by tomorrow.

Changed into my other skirt and made my appearance at the ceildhe after 9:00 (it started at 8:30). By then I was so tired I didn’t really care, but had decided enough of this crap, I had to talk to Lukas*.

The dances were all of the country variety, but unlike at Coverdale* at Christmas nobody taught them. It was like my home church choir director and the "Hallelujah Chorus"-- no rehearsal time because of course you’re born knowing it. It was pretty funny, because the PA system went down and you couldn’t hear the fiddle or guitars at all, but only the thump of the tambour and the shouts of the dancers counting steps in largely-vain attempts to keep themselves straight.

I didn’t dance; you needed a partner and I was too physically tired to make the effort to choose somebody to ask. Lukas* was keeping himself thoroughly occupied on the floor, a fact which at another time I would’ve witnessed with vicarious pleasure and satisfaction. Just now, however, it only filled me with the cynical sense that well, our little world of this weekend is yet proceeding according to its own established order . . .

But I did get a chance to talk to him a little while he was sitting one out. A bit of chitchat about the dancing, then a casual question as to whether he was leaving tomorrow morning or staying till later. He replied that it was tomorrow morning or nothing, so I kept my mouth shut about the possibilities of rides across Mull later in the day. If I appear on the jetty in the midst of the rest of the sleep-benumbed throng tomorrow at 5:30 AM, he will have no reason to impugn my motives.

I told him I’d just been on a three and a half hour hike around the island. He immediately countered with the statement that last Wednesday he, along with the rest of the abbey group, had gone on a six-hour "pilgrimage" around Iona, visiting all the famous hermitages and other religious sites, and, in the process, establishing a wonderful bond among them all. That, I thought, was tolerably obvious.

I wanted to say something that would reveal even to me myself that I could rejoice with him in this, but I couldn’t manage it. So I sufficed with something on the order of "That’s nice," and said we at the Center weren’t so fortunate, as having to spend so much time in services and other activities we hadn’t much chance to form interpersonal relationships. "I’m afraid there was rather more program than I’d bargained for, though I suppose I should’ve expected it . . . "

"But you didn’t have to attend all those things! You could have done other things if you’d liked!"

Oh? Maybe so, but that’s not the way I was raised.

The last dance was played around 10:40 and then the abbey group members took turns taking funny pictures of their assemblage. It briefly flitted through my mind to offer to take one of them all to give to Lukas* at Coverdale*. But just as quickly I knew that’d be meddling impertinence. Besides, I’m sure he’s already got someone pledged to send him a copy of theirs.

So I took off for the laundry room to see to the last bit of wash that was still soaking in the sink, and so much for my first Scottish ceildhe . . .


Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean about buying the sweatshirt, even though you didn't know quite why... Though I find I am enjoying my (my college) sports shirt and shorts...

Did you ever resolve things with Lukas? I'm so curious now...


St. Blogwen said...

I've still got the blinking sweatshirt. And sometimes still wear it. Maybe I enjoy the irony.

Or maybe the idea that I've grown beyond those days.

As for any resolution with friend Lukas, that awaits a future post . . .

Anonymous said...


;) (kidding of course)


St. Blogwen said...

Yeah, I gotta milk it through the next day's entry, right?

Anonymous said...

This is a great piece of introspective, honest writing.

Do you find that it is helpful to read your words from the past? Does it bring up old pains or struggles that inform you for this day's tasks or is it more of a keeping of memories so that you won't lose where you've come from?

These questions come from one who has never kept any sort of journal, except for some regular blogging of course!

Anyway, I enjoy the writing. I'll tell you about my trip to Iona sometime....

St. Blogwen said...

Toby, I think rereading something like this after a lapse of several years can yield something useful for the present day's tasks. You might think you had it all sorted out at the time, but maturity (and the Holy Spirit!) can do you a favor and prove you wrong. And what you see now is so much truer than what you concluded before.

Something on that tomorrow (Friday).

Anonymous said...

Cool! Thanks. I'm looking forward to the rest!