I have been remembering some amusing incidents. In the first days of this New Year I took an Air New Zealand flight south to meet my sisters, an annual pilgrimage. Unwittingly I had purchased a `no luggage' ticket and at check-in was informed that my carry-on was some 7 kgs over the limit. So on this humid summer morning I was obliged to don an extra shirt, a jersey, a glaringly incongruous raincoat and an extra pair of trousers to reduce the weight. The main cause of my excess baggage however were eight voluminous books loaned to me by a very literary sister and I began concealing these in a raincoat pocket, one under a jersey, and several under the waistband and belt of my trousers. With my now hugely distended girth and robotic movements I passed the watchful eyes of security successfully and with a sigh of relief lurched across the tarmac to the small waiting plane.
Then disaster struck. Robert Fiske's `The Great War For Civilization A History of the Middle East', a huge 900 page tome, began sliding down from my waistband and became lodged inside my left trouser leg above the knee I began trying to retrieve it, a bizarre sight, when another large book held in place by my trouser belt also began obeying the laws of gravity. It was Arundhati Roy's sad book, `The God of Small Things" and it too became nicely wedged in the other trouser leg.
I was standing in full view of the passengers, bizarrely kitted out like an Eskimo in the blazing sun, my lower trousers filling up with illicit books and rendering all further movement impossible. My teacher Sri Chinmoy's account of the spiritual life, `Beyond Within', slid all the way down to my calf, protruding like some grave dislocation.
At the top of the stairs into the aircraft a patiently waiting stewardess watched in amazement as I fumbled about inside my trouser legs, hauling out book after displaced book. Two young girls behind me were giggling hysterically and all the aircraft windows were now lined with hugely interested faces. I had to semi-undress, very publicly retrieve my illicit cache of books then march onto the plane as though nothing really unusual had happened at all. Though no-one said a word, a sense of mirth filled the small cabin. It was a very embarrassing travel experience.
I was hugged fondly by my sisters on arrival and we drove first to my youngest sisters house. I am the only unpropertied member of the Dallas family my siblings all have homes with large gardens filled with riotous flowers. Sally has a clutch of gorgeously feathered, handsome pedigree bantams that strut about with the assurance of the privileged only one of the several cats dares disturb this garden utopia, a magnificent tawny beast like a mountain lion that bursts out of concealment in the shrubbery in a blur of speed, reliving atavistic memories, scattering the hens in a mock charge. " Toby!" says Sally reprovingly, but the great yellow eyed feline stops short of murder, stands tail twitching mid-lawn to survey his work, licks a paw, steps delicately across the damp grass disdainful of the clucking hens.
Inside over lunch we swapped stories about our departed parents. One week before my mother died she clearly saw a figure of light, a very beautiful, golden being coming down the corridor towards her and into her room, beckoning her to follow it. She knew the time of her death had come, but declined to follow the golden figure she had been reading the Bible a lot in recent days and addressed the ethereal figure in quaint biblical terms: " I am not yet ready to go with Thee. Return to whither Thou comest from. May God bless Thee." The golden form obediently departed.
Once we discussed reincarnation with our parents over dinner, and spoke of the ongoing connections that souls can sometimes have. My father said amusingly to my mother: " Anne, you had better enjoy my company and make the most of me now while you can as I think I'll choose someone else next time around." When informed later of my mother's passing, my father his memory had begun to fail replied " I can't really remember her. I know I should be feeling something, but I don't quite know what."
On to sister Jane's house for the evening. Last time I was here her husband had just died. There was almost a sense of jollity in the room then, the relief we feel when those we love have left their suffering behind them and when those left behind are finally unburdened by the often prolonged unhappiness of a long dying. Only the loneliness of the living is yet to come. Husband Alan lay in his coffin in a corner of the sitting room, moustached and of waxen pallor and looking for all the world like a deceased western gunfighter or town marshall, sans bullet holes.
We would look at him and tell stories, swap memories about this lovely, funny, generous hearted, quiet man. On that visit I had a harmonium with me and sang Guru's songs for them all and to the still form in the corner. Death and dying are often softened and consoled in the knowing of the soul's immortal life, or belief in God, or understanding the quiet perfection behind everything. I read the words of each of Guru's songs aloud and my sisters all wept.