OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.
My cottage on the outskirts of McGregor is located only a few hundred metres away from the local cemetery. I have never visited it before, but it was something my landlady mentioned when I moved in yesterday (she walks her dogs along the path to the cemetery in the mornings) and I decided to explore the place despite finding South African cemeteries highly depressing. I am used to more stone, order and elegance – at least that is how Polish and Austrian cemeteries feature in my memory – and I found very little evidence of any of these characteristics here, but I did find two graves of people who are most likely related to me by marriage, and there was something deeply humbling in the realisation. I also stood at the foot of a freshly (a few days ago) covered grave and for the first time ever felt unsettled by the idea of a human being’s body decomposing under my feet. When I noticed earth flying out of another grave nearby, unlike the three gravediggers inside, I was thoroughly spooked.
I still think of death when I travel, especially when I am driving on my own. I can’t help thinking that I might never come back. And every time the thought crosses my mind, another immediately follows: my loved ones, human and feline, need me – I can’t just disappear. It’s complete nonsense, of course, because life and death don’t work like that, but it is what it is.
Someone I know is mourning a sister. Someone else I follow on Twitter is all alone on her wedding anniversary today. Their loved ones left us much too soon.
The first time I came to McGregor it was because the woman who had just lost her sister told me that coming here would be healing for me after the death of my husband. It was. She was right. But there is nothing as straightforward as this about death and grief. It’s a muddled mess.
McGregor is home to many elderly people. At forty-four, grey and wrinkled, I feel like a snotty youngster here. And it is good to feel young, with nearly a whole life ahead of me, but I also understand why grief is on my mind. The first time I went to see my counsellor after my breakdown in July, she immediately recognised the waves of grief washing over me at the time, for the people and things I’d lost and for the loved ones and things I was petrified of losing: my love, Salieri, myself, Karavan Press and all else (because of health complications, crime and the pandemic). No matter how self-aware and resilient I might be, I am also only human, and sometimes running is easier than sitting still and being, with all the knowing and pain it entails. One needs calm and time to confront and process grief – real and potential.
Twenty-four hours of relative calm and I find myself walking among graves. Even the act of putting one foot in front of the other makes me think of death, of the book I read about the connection between our mobility and mortality – Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.
These are not morbid thoughts, even if they might seem so. I am happy, more relaxed than I have been in a long time, the tension in my body is draining away with every step I take, poem I read, coffee cup I drink and meal I have in solitude and silence. I watched the nest builders outside my cottage for most of the afternoon and their movement and song brought beauty into the day. But, I am resting, and this is a good thing. Because in my case rest requires a lot of hard work.
Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local. Get vaccinated, please.
“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”