Written April 10, 2020.
Good Friday today. I must go for a walk alone in the bush today and try to pray.
My mother who was Jewish by inheritance but made by horrific circumstance to be Catholic, always sent us kids to our room on Good Friday at 3 pm precisely to think about Christ on the Cross. I was a timid, impressionable child, and caught up in the drama in her voice, tried diligently, but could only imagine two bits of weathered planks like my father would strip off a house he was renovating, two bits of wood nailed together. Dad was an artist but he was always renovating houses to keep us eating – which we’d often move into, before the renovations were finished. It fitted me for this house.
But the weathered planks remained bereft of a person on them. I never could put a person on those planks. They looked too splintery. We were very unchurched- in fact, I didn’t see the inside of a church until the end of primary school, when, going home from school one day, i wandered into a church, just because a door was open, and gazing into the vast brown, deep, hushed space, I was astounded by the quiet pale statues, the tall gold candles, the very air with waves of a perfume so strange that I felt myself to be under water, and half expected a school of fish to come finning towards me at any moment, intent on their fish world and silently parting to go around me as if I was a rock. And the furnishings! gilt tassels wherever I looked, a perfectly ironed white linen cloth, its ironed creases upright, on a stand underneath a big, heavy gilt-edged bible, and it seemed the whole church was cloaked with gilt or rich, heavy velvet hangings. I owned a secret little matchbox with a piece of gold velvet inside that a kind lady had given me, a cutting from her new dress I’d admired, and I’d often open my little box and to ward off terror, I’d stroke my gold velvet. But in this church, such an excess of velvet, an excess I’d have never imagined, not gold which suddenly seemed flashy but deeply regal blue velvet, blue that seemed like the bushland we’d lived in till recently and I mourned every day, blue catching the light and glowing in hilltops and dark, shadowy valleys. Glowing hill tops and shadowy valleys, glowing blue and then black, glowing blue and then black. Being the family of an artist we were always poor, and my impoverished eyes had never seen such grandeur that became mine just because I’d sneaked through an open door. And I had it all to myself, this astounding grandeur, no one was about, no one to judge or criticize. So after a while, round-eyed, I crept out of my hiding place and stroked as much blue velvet as my grubby, ink-stained could reach, in a sort of ecstasy I remember to this day.
Today In our very humble river house, one without any gilt,statues, candles or velvet, only nature as magnificent as any cathedral, we have the working board GG made, to help with cooking, and weeping.
My student whose work I edited yesterday sent me back an email:
I read his words, weeping.
And K, who is only a part-time believer, I suspect to keep me happy, sends me a website for Sunday. So I can be part of the celebrations. Often I ignore Easter Sunday, but this year, I need it. I cry again at such kindness. I seem to be always crying.
Sometime later, I remember my plan to walk and pray. The day is a desolate grey, a stormy sky full of rain.. There’s no prayer in me so I walk as far as the last house and sit on his porch- he won’t mind- he’s a lovely, heroic man, and a smiling, pretty wife, though I’ve been too shy to get to know them beyond a hello. i curse my shyness. They’ll be very hard hit by this virus. I stare at the grey river willing a prayer, trying at least to remember formulaic words of prayer, but even that won’t come- pray, Sue pray – this is not how to pray- I must get to the stillness but I can’t, I can’t find God. When I still my mind, there’s just a painful swelling in my heart at the 100,000 people suddenly struck down. I put my head down on his somber grey table and sob till they’re screams, screaming sobs for all the people I love. it’s not just what they do for me – our builder with his golden grey streaked hair, my dear little hairdresser from Iran where they’re digging mass graves maybe for her mother and father as well, our chemist who serves us so diligently confronting people every day and which one who looks well is going to kill him?, the man in the corner shop in Darlinghurst who works long hours but always has a wide grin for me, for everyone, my friends, the risks they take just walking down a street and passing someone who seems well, just buying a carton of milk. Many of them like me are of a dangerous age – 80% of the deaths are older people – and living full, rich lives. The bush at least listens to my screams, but does God? Spare them all, please God, spare them. Spare them like you did C. Spare us all. Have pity on us all.