Begging a New Grace

This true story featured nationally on ABC Open Drum.  
The topic was "Customs and Rituals"

Kesavan Muruganandan

Kesavan Muruganandan

‘Mamma, why do we celebrate Christmas?’

‘Well… it was Jesus’ birthday and some people believe…”

“Do you believe that?”

“Well…. I believe Jesus was a good person and had some great wisdom about how to live, but I don’t believe…”

‘So why do we celebrate Christmas?”

“Well…”

I thrash around a bit more in the soup of celebratory, parental hypocrisy, and not for the first time try my best to convey that integrity is important, and yet we also live lies.

Then, pushed by the guileless inquiries of my children, I search for congruity, and following footsteps worn smooth over the ages, I begin to honour the cycle of the seasons, the turning of the moon and planets, and to give thanks for the physical and metaphysical planes. 

Each Solstice my friend and I call a communal feasting fire at Days Picnic Ground atop Mt Macedon. The difference between the dark sleeted, "Are we having fun yet?" winter Solstice, and the breezy, slow, longest summer day party, hooks me to the great turning, and paradoxically keeps me centred. 

At Equinox, we ceremonially eat a night and day of fake cream and jam, sandwiched between brittle icing and suet pastry; we make a sweet symbol, albeit tokenistic, of the half dark, half light neenish tart.  

And for myself, over the years, there are sporadic women’s circles, irregular full moon rituals and occasional new moon commitments.

Slowly something in me changes, slowly the unfamiliar and self-conscious becomes vaguely comfortable; slowly an ephemeral, spiritual dimension settles and a new way of being seeps into my limbs and mouth. 

And like a lost memory, an epiphany, an old favourite coat... one day, when my world shatters, when nothing is familiar and the future is blind, it steps forward.

***

It is July and my partner is dying. The hospital calls me at around 6 am. I come into his room, he is alone and alive. I hold his hand and notice with defiance and denial it is still warm. I had read that the hands of a dying person become cold, one of the ways you know they are dying.

I sit there at a loss; almost unreachable, he is breathing slow, intermittent, laboured breaths. There is no nurse, the drips and needles, beeping and whirring have been withdrawn, they sit back from the bed, lifeless.

Suddenly a knowing floods me. I want to revere; I need a ritual for this most sacred of passages. So, in clumsy and halting words, I call on the spirit of the four directions and their elemental meanings, I cast a numinous, hallowed spell around us, I give thanks for the man before me and all we shared; and in the silence that followed he dies.

At the funeral too, it seems unthinkable that we would begin, end and proceed like a conference or presentation. I want to enter a space ‘between the worlds’, and so I again cast a circle, to hold the stories and songs we spin for the life we mourn.

***

Rituals are hard to maintain in the face not just of blind silence from the world at large, but an opposing story; living in one story and trying to tell another story takes imagination and persistence.

Seeing with fresh eyes, riding the contradictions of life and making meaning of the lies, begs a new grace.  

It's mid December and my daughter again asks, “So Mum, we’ll get a Solstice present and Christmas presents, right?”