Feb 7th was my mother’s birthday. She died 14 years ago, just before her 93rd birthday.
I think of her every day, and light a candle for her most evenings as darkness draws in, especially in winter during the dreamtime. She enters my dreams frequently, along with the rest of my dead. In my dreams we continue to carry her, my sisters and I, a tightly entangled family. Our brother is free – he died before her, and tolerated her at his bedside because he had no choice. He was in a coma by the time she arrived in Toronto from the UK.
I don’t remember all the dreams. I have recorded them over the years in a series of colored notebooks of assorted sizes scattered around my house. I have always thought that I will collect them up one of these long winters and read them, along with my journals. But I am beginning to realize that it’s not going to happen; too much else is going on in the world, and I am fully engaged. In any case, I have learned to rely on my own form of memory, which does not necessarily conform to perfect recall brain memory, or indeed, anything to do with the brain. As a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, drama, poetry, and factual essays, I have learned that there are no borders, just as there are no true borders between countries on this little planet. We’ve been fed lies from the beginning; and borders of all kinds are just one of the lies.
I am reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. It is bawdy and comic, gruesome and pitiful, peopled by suffering people atoning for their sins. It is akin to Kafka’s Penal Colony, which describes the last use of an elaborate device that carves the sentence of the condemned prisoner on his skin as he dies slowly over the course of twelve hours. As the plot unfolds, the reader learns more and more about the machine, including its origin and justification. In Kafka’s story, the authorities want the prisoner to understand his sentence and execution through the process of being written upon by the machine. In Dante’s Inferno (the first of the three books, followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso), the punishment matches the crime – the bloodiest of war-mongers, such as Attila the Hun or Alexander the Great, must boil in blood through eternity, up to their ankles in it, or to their eye-lashes, depending on the level of their earthly cruelty.
We all ponder the Afterlife, even the most vehement atheists. The mind will not be closed. Just try “meditating.”
What is the Afterlife but an allowing of our dead to live through us, in dreams and stories, in our gestures, habits, and emotional patterning? And as memory – our own distillation of the overwhelming moments of lived experience that we call reality?
February 14th, 2022