Thérèse

The bird flew low over the water, and I could see bird, reflection, shadow, all together: a perfect photograph. Thank God I did not have my camera!

In the park, the paths are wide, curving between the lakes, meadowy grass and trees; but there are ten yards when the path is narrow and the trees meet overhead. Here the light changes to forest-light, a relief on a hot sunny day. I have been practising mindfulness in the park, opening my awareness to my surroundings now, seeing heaven in a leaf. Now on the narrow path as a woman approaches I stand aside, and my attention is caught by that branch, those leaves, just in front of my face. Children play in the woods to my left.

-Hello, she says.
-Hello, I say. I have been practising mindfulness here, paying attention to the birds, flowers and trees.
-I like to say ‘Hello’ to people in the park. (We are both explaining ourselves.)

We got chatting. She is interested in mindfulness. I say I am a Quaker; there are Quakers, Buddhists and Baha’i in Swanston, there were Sufis in Nupton at one point. She is a recovering Catholic, no longer a believer. We chat away for a bit, pleasantly.

-I’m Clare.
-I’m Treeza.
-Teresa? (Surely no-one pronounces it with two syllables.)
-Treeza. Though I really like the French pronunciation, Thérèse.

She comes here a lot. I propose walking with her, so turn round to go back where I came. Later, I propose sitting on the bench, looking over the lake to the island where the birds circle. It is inscribed in memoriam: she is not sure about cremation, but she would like a bench like this, in the park. She will talk to her son.

Some time after my back is uncomfortable in the direct sunshine, I propose going on. She assents: she had been feeling her back burning a bit. She pays me some delicious compliments. “You have a beautiful rich voice and a wonderful dramatic way of expressing yourself”. I would love to be an actress, and she would have loved it too.

We discuss Northern Ireland, where she lived until she was fifty and had her breakdown. She lived in Ian Paisley’s constituency- have you heard of him? He died recently. It was not like Belfast or Armagh, but there were bombs. She did not like people radicalising.

-The Catholics were discriminated against. When I am pushed too far, my back goes up and I resist too.

I am amazed to find myself, so partisan from the sidelines during the Troubles, defending the ‘RA to a Catholic, as we walk along the causeway between two lakes. She agrees they faced discrimination, and says there is a very high incidence of PTSD in Northern Ireland.

She always wanted to be a teacher. As a small child she dressed as a nun and wrote on a blackboard, for nuns did all the teaching. The church was oppressive- she is utterly delighted by the referendum result, and hopes the North will soon have equal marriage too- but the nuns instilled in her a love of art and literature, and Seamus Heaney helped her survive. She had to bring up her son. Now she does very little but loves to walk in the park. She does not know what she will do when her grandson, now 15, goes to University.

This story has turned in my mind since. Her son booked for her to go with him, his wife and son to somewhere hot, to a self-catering place. A week before, she said she could not go: the stress was too much for her.

I would call that chaotic and passive-aggressive, and unfair to him; then my view changed. Next day with Serra the psychotherapist we smiled joyfully at each other, and said,

-She got what she wanted!
-How? says Serra, smiling:
-She asked for what she wanted!

Perhaps she had agreed to go because it was conventional fun, the kind of thing people are supposed to want. Perhaps her son should have realised that it was not right for her. She knew in her heart she did not want to go, and eventually found the strength to communicate that, far better than going and being miserable.

I will turn off here to go home, and she will walk on to where her car is parked, a little away where she does not have to pay the parking fee. We hug and bow namaste. I thought of calling this “Treeza”, but the correct title is obvious.

swan, flying

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