Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Friday, August 26, 2011

In silence

Her request was that no announcement of death should be made until "I am safely laid away at Mucurap..." However, "should the news leak out, take me to All Saints  in the plainest possible coffin..." Then, "let the priest say the absolute minimum. Let there be NO MUSIC. Ask people to sit quietly for a little while, half hour is quite long enough."

So it was Wednesday, August 24 found me sitting quietly in All Saints (left side front half of the church) full of family, friends and Lydians, thinking about Pat Bishop again, and knowing that she was released. There were two readings of Psalms, and one from Paul's letters to the Corinthians. In between, there were long periods of silence. No one spoke. Tears flowed in silence.

Psalm 39:
I held my tongue and said nothing, and while I was musing the fire kindled: ...
Behold thou hast made my days as it were a span long; and mine age is as nothing in respect of thee; and every man living is altogether vanity.
For man walks in a vain shadow, and disquiets himself in vain: he heaps up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.

Psalm 90:
The days of our age are threescore years and ten; and though man be so strong that they come to fourscore years; yet is their strength then but labour and sorrow; so soon it passes away, and we are gone. 
So  teach us to number our days; that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

Like many of her sisters who were raised in that school between Abercromby Street and Chancery Lane, Pat struggled with a highly developed sense of duty and responsibility. She fought the idea of failure, battling the mortality of her body - underactive thyroid, bad heart - to make the most of her threescore and ten. "I am tired, it's time to go," she said this to those who were near in the last months.

Someone said, "It's as if I woke up one morning and the Northern Range wasn't there." Too melodramatic!

In the end, I see the fruits of a life lived hard and full, with no need for regret. In the end, I see a wealth of painting, music, her wise words on behalf of many artists, and the influence (by word and touch and deed) in the lives of many. I hear a single message: love who you are, and do the best you can.

Like Bunty said: "...a beautiful thought occurred to me as I was smoothing one of my calabash bowls this morning: when I walk in the forest I sometimes see a scene of devastation where a giant tree has fallen as they eventually do, everything seems to be in ruins. But the sunshine comes pouring in to the space and the little stream finds another way around the debris and best of all, millions of little saplings of all different kinds come struggling upwards with their leaves turned to the light.  I think I will think of Pat like that fallen tree, it gives me great comfort and hope.  Only good things can come from the people who loved and admired her - you will see."

Pat's wish
As she wanted to be remembered

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Remembering Pat

Pat Bishop died yesterday. She collapsed in a meeting and never woke up. My immediate thought is for the speeches and features she has given me to read, with the intent to publish them with a few of her paintings in  a monograph. And the next, that her tortured soul has returned to rest, to the perfect knowingness that she pursued in music and art - the two languages in which she expressed herself more completely than with words.

Pat was my friend, and it is for the loss of my friend that I mourn silently and tearlessly. Not the artist, nor musician nor the eloquent speaker with messages so barbed that she alienated one person after another. And I can keep her alive in my head knowing that she is now beyond "this mortal coil."

The Pat who came back to Bishop Anstey High School (BAHS) in the late sixties - to hold philosophical discussions with us in sixth form - was a glamorous sophisticated miss. I remember her low voice and the ease with which she discussed the "-isms" so many of which went over the head of a mathematics major. She fascinated us with her poise, the round full Afro of the day, and the romance with John Sewell, the white Anglican priest. We were devastated when that broke apart - how much more she?

Fast forward seven or eight years to the production of the Trinidad Carnival magazine. Pat's commentary on the steelbands was a staple soon after I joined the publication in 1974. By 1977, her remarks, her attitude, dominated - one can say shaped - the publication. She was on staff at Key Caribbean and had a hand in the other magazine publications, Homemaker, the BWIA in-flight magazine Tempo, and Environ a publication about architecture in Trinidad and Tobago. Health problems and a vision too advanced for an enterprise that was essentially an advertising agency for the Kirpalani's empire pushed her away. But I cherished our discussions that celebrated and nurtured Trinbagonian cultural expression. We were always talking about "what if..."

Pat did more than dream. She pushed herself to make the dream. Dalinda the opera. The Flight of the Scarlet Ibis, another opera. Curator of the National Museum. Drilling pan-players and teaching them music. Chase Charlie, the campaign for a litter-free Trinidad and Tobago. And in the intervals between paying jobs and pushing pan, she painted. Prolifically. A collection every year for over 20 years. She said it was the only way to make ends meet. But it was more than that. She was happy in her tiny studio, the music blasting from her Bose CD player, making the mark that was hers and hers alone. Each painting a poem, a symphony, a perfect lyric.

The last time I saw Pat, she was - as usual - propped up on pillows in her large soft bed. Cordless phone and writing materials nearby. She called Conrad to show me the Stations of the Cross which she was making for the church in Diego Martin. It was the week before Palm Sunday and she was wondering when would be a good time to hang and show the work. It had to be before Good Friday I said, thinking she must already know this. But Pat talking to me then was Pat talking to herself.

She spent so much time in the bed - it was her office, her conference room, her centre of operations - she must have thought she would die in bed. Instead her soul chose a time, in full public glare, to go home. We will miss Pat.

For Gillian - another BAHS mentor, my chemistry teacher -  I wish strength and courage.

circa 2006


Monday, August 15, 2011

Sunday in parentheses

Fat raindrops like glass beads bounce on the sea. Submerged to my eyes, I am one with the water. And though the sky has fallen like a steel sheet on the horizon and the light has disappeared, there is clarity in this day, and a return of balance.

Alcohol is like the gift delivered by Circe to Odysseus and his fellows. Forgetfulness is its boon. But time is kept, and the story told by those who remember. And therein lies the rub.  Should we leave out the odyssey's lost months, we would surely truncate the narrative, dininsh the voyage and lose the point of coming home.

The day of crisis has passed, but not forgotten. With the alcoholic as with any addict, there are cycles of binge and balance, treacherous for those who strive for balance. And so, we put these days in parentheses. (No final solution, just one day of coping.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Writing truths

I could write:
This morning my dolphin blood takes me to the sea before the sun is high. I am floating in the gently churning waves on a sandy spit just off the southwest tip of Tobago. The bulk of the bigger island Trinidad hovers on the western horizon. Pelicans circle and plunge. Boobies scream and gulls stall on the wind. It's tourist post card perfect. Even the Dash-8 airplanes coming in right over this edge of coastal land don't ruin the setting with bumblebee noise and petrol fumes - just remind us of the connected world.

Or, I could write today, this Sunday in August:
Even the full moon silvering the sea and the shushing waves could not calm the noisy drunk. He is shouting in the still of the fore day dawn. Where is the security? Who are those people on the jetty? What they doing there? It's not hard to believe in the Jekyll and Hyde story. But it's very hard to say my husband is an alcoholic and I have never known how to help him. I like my life. I like to drink. Every other word an expletive. This is no attempt to romanticise a difficult situation. He can barely walk this morning. He says he is bored, he needs another drink to shake the jitters. But I've asked the management not to serve him, they understand. He says that I belittle him. It's no victory just expedient.

He does not connect his addiction to the gaps in his life. He wants to be needed, he wants to wake up everyday to do something, but what? All I know is the pain inflicted on himself and those who love him and know the Jekyll politeness, more absent now. I do not know what caused his pain, or if indeed pain is prelude to his condition. I do know what it feels like to give up in the quiet lonely night. To have the sun rise on darkness that doesn't lighten.

Both are true in the same space. And for once my little blog homily doesn't circle back with a satisfactory ending. It's not asking for pity, or understanding. I prefer no responses to this. A piece of writing that ends instead in ellipsis ...