Is that thunder, or distant cannon fire I hear?

Here in paradise, the sun shines on a world of lurid greens.  A bunch of orange thamibilly* punctuates the middle distance.  To the north, a bank of octopus ink clouds is advancing toward us, a stark and dramatic backdrop to the world outside my windows.  White herons are flying to safety from their feeding grounds in the paddy fields down by the canal;  the last of Hanuman’s Troupe has bounded across the roof, off to …  wherever it is, they go, to shelter from a storm.  In the garden, the three new flagpoles of black bamboo execute a staccato gavotte, powered by the blustery breeze that’s flying ahead of the storm.

It grows darker, and darker.  Now, the monsoon-feed clouds collide in an almost continual roar.  Is that the sound of distant cannon fire I hear?  Am I in my aerie on the rise behind the Parliament in Sri Lanka, or with Pierre, listening to the sound of Napoleon’s Grande Armée advancing on Borodino?

What am I doing in the middle of this raging battlefield?

The battlefield is in my mind.  It is a conflict begun years ago, not long after I returned to live on my paradise island.  On the one hand, the Voice of Reason, covertly whispering snippets of financial reality in my ear as the strands of the global economic crisis began to enmesh me into the growing maelstrom.  On the other, an expanse of emotional certainty, which steadfastly refused to be anything other than enchanted.

Not entirely unmindful of the likelihood that what was threatening to bring down countries, must also affect me, I sought to achieve a compromise.  I moved.  I relinquished my dream home; the garden I had created.  I uprooted The Girls and brought them here to the edge of the city.  Significant savings were envisioned.  Then I fell down the stairs, and a third protagonist entered the conflict.  “What if it had been a stroke, or a heart attack, Parkinson’s, cancer?”  “You think you’re helpless now, because you have your leg in the air and can only negotiate those steps on your backside?”, this new voice jeered.

Physical incapacity is not something I’d ever experienced.  The thought of it had never entered my mind.  It shocked and frightened me.  Equally, I knew now what my mother and father had felt, at the end of their lives, unable to do for themselves, without me.

Very soon it will be a year since I began clawing my way back to full mobility.  In this year of a myriad small cuts I’ve learned a thing or two about life, and myself, the least palatable of which is that I’m overwhelmed by the decisions I have to make, and have been procrastinating about examining my options.  Lotus eating here in paradise is my preferred option.

Then, last weekend, a friend had a stroke – one he will live through, and, with a mountain of hard work and help, overcome.  As did my mother.  But not only did Dorothy have her redoubtable determination to drive her, and me to prod, chivvy and love her.  She also had access to a team of stroke specific therapists in a rehabilitation centre not far from her home.  How will G climb that mountain I watched my mother summit with so much difficulty?  How would I?  I know the answer to that now.  Without family, without the type of medical help we’ve grown accustomed to in the West, I wouldn’t be able to.

So, it’s clear.  I must go back home.  Experience, and my old nemesis, the Voice of Reason, tell me I must do it while I can – while I have options, and time to create a new life for myself.

But I quail at the first decision I have to make – it is the reason I have been unable to face it these last several months.  I must leave my girls behind**.  I must find them a new home here in paradise.  Not until I have done that will I be able to think about where I might like to live, what I would like to do with the rest of my life, how I might make a little extra money, figure out the complexities of a large physical move to a place unknown, or cope with having my wings clipped.

The rumbling continues, the storm moves slowly, inexorably on.  The light changes hue – no longer black-purple with lime, but the smoke flecked fire of a distant battlefield …

Thambilly – Bright orange king coconut.
**  Seven months quarantine, six in Singapore, one in Sydney, alone, is jus too cruel.
This isn’t a sympathy seeking post – no commiseration, if you don’t mind.

79 thoughts on “Is that thunder, or distant cannon fire I hear?

  1. Oh my dear! No! Oh I can hear your heart breaking from here! Will the girls be able to find a good home there? And will you be able to find a place you can love as much somewhere else?
    I am so sorry.
    Keira – & hug.

  2. I think about bodily limitations quite a bit, particularly as my parents (and my husband’s) get older, and I see the issues they cope with. It definitely helps to have family and friends nearby to help navigate the healthcare system and navigate the daily chores necessary for life.

    It would be difficult to leave such a lovely place, but I think both Reason and Intuition have a place in our future plans. I wish you the best as you contemplate your next move.

    • Thank you Anne. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that after ten years caring for my parents through their final years that I’d have been more cognisant of physical limitations? Perhaps the 40 year age gap lulled me into thinking I was still immortal? Or perhaps I was just being selfish. Having spent those ten years back in Oz perhaps I figured I’d be able to snatch ten years back here before my turn came?

      Truthfully, I can’t remember. All I remember is that after two visits back here after they’d died, I couldn’t imagine why I was returning to Oz. But it’s been grand, and though four years isn’t as long as I’d planned, indefinitely really only means until circumstances change, and I’m glad that I’ve at last recognised that.

      On top of which – this morning in my mail came the reminder to “give thanks for what has been given … no matter how little” – and that I do, with great humility.

      • It doesn’t sound like you were ever selfish! To take care of your parents for ten years sounds like you were a very giving, caring daughter.

        And I think we all must suspend that feeling of mortality to a point, or else what would keep us going? I guess we are all trying to achieve a balance of seizing the moment and realizing nothing lasts forever.

        People ask me about my running and wonder if I’m destroying my knees or hips. I know I could be in for problems in the future. But then I wonder, do they expect me to sit inside watching TV all day to “protect” my knees? Aging. Changes. Decisions.

        I wish you the best as you weigh your options.

        • All you say is so true Anne, and I am so grateful for your thoughts.

          It made me laugh thinking of you sitting in front of the TV knitting to protect your knees! I suppose at some point the running will have to give way to walking, but while you can do it, what’s the point of not? That’s the way I was brought up too, and don’t see any reason to revise my thinking! All too soon our world will begin to shrink – why shrink it ourselves before we need?

  3. My heart breaks for you, having to make this decision. I believe that Sri Lanka will miss you as well. Perhaps it is time you started gathering all those memories you have created in a book that you can take from the shelf at anytime and be transported back to your paradise.

    • That certainly must be done, Michelle. One thing I’m fearful of is losing my memories, and as much of my travelling was done before I consented to buying a camera, that’s very likely to happen!

      Of my time in Sri Lanka – all I can hope is that I can distill 20 years of impressions, stories and critical observations into some essays to go with photographs. I’m trying to hatch a plan to do a series of farewell trips all over the island to take pictures with a modern camera, and talk to people away from the cities to get more stories and insight into this endlessly fascinating place.

  4. There does come a time in one’s life when difficult decisions have to be made. Well done on your recovery after your fall. You sound very matter of fact about it, and I’m sure it will all work out. Every new phase of life is an adventure, and I’m sure you will win this battle too. Hugs to you.

    • Thank you for the paradise hug:) And thank you for reminding me that what lies ahead will be another adventure. All tied up with the dread of making the break, I’d lost sight of that!

  5. I felt so very sad reading your post. It is going to be hard, very hard, to let go of all that you love in Sri Lanka. You will leave a part of your heart behind, and in your heart it will remain always. I think you should listen to your Voice of Reason, because it is coming from somewhere that guides you. It’s funny, but I am going through something like this myself at the moment. We have strong emotional ties to Jamaica, but it’s the physical concerns of growing older, and feeling vulnerable suddenly. Good luck and please keep in touch…
    PS Your writing is very vivid. I can just feel that gathering tropical storm…

    • I do thank you for your compliment on my description of the storm! It’s so strange how an imagined amalgam of all the storms this monsoon season, which I thought was a nice metaphor for my state of mind, actually blew up yesterday afternoon. It came in like a mini-tornado, almost horizontal across the garage roof where Hanuman’s mother likes to sit beneath the custard apple tree. All at once the air was full of water, flying through windows and doors, dusting the floor as though we were in close proximity to a raging water fall!

      If the voice of reason speaks, even stubborn Pollyanna’s like me eventually must listen – if only as a means of self preservation. I’m unwilling, still, and grudging, but writing about it seems to have lightened the gloom … and having such thoughtful and empathetic feedback from people like you Petchary is also a great help. 🙂

  6. I am on the verge of tears reading this, and knowing that you will leave that beautiful place that you’ve just introduced me to. But as we age, we must be prudent, and do what must be done. You have the upper hand knowing that you have had this adventure while you could. You will find the place where you are meant to be….the Universe will guide you there.

    • Yes, i’m a great believer in the role of the universe in our lives, Angeline. I’ve had very little to do with the way my (wonderful, wonderful) life has panned out, so it must be so:)

      I somehow feel that once I’ve taken care of my responsibility for The Girls, and taken a series of ‘farewell’ tours around the island, that my intuition will guide me to the next adventure. Well, that’s what I’m counting on, anyway! (Because I’d hate to think I’m about to get my comeuppance, on this, the final great adventure of my life!)

  7. I too am leaving a place that I love and I know it is a bittersweet time. I always think how fortunate I am to live overlooking such a beautiful place for the time I did, and I’m sure you feel that way too.

  8. The worst thing about growing old is that we have to stop ignoring that voice of reason. Giving up your girls will not be easy at all. I empathise with the tough choices you will need to make. But I also know you will come through just fine. I hope you will find a place you will love even more than your beloved Serendip.

    • Bless you, Madhu:)

      I think one of the only advantages of getting older is that life’s experiences do prepare us for these great upheavals, and we grow to trust ourselves, and the universe, that we’ll see it through to the other side. The great difficulty for me has been arriving at the brink. Now I’ve said it out loud, so to speak, I’m feeling more confident and less full of doom – even hopeful I’ve already found a – no, no mustn’t tempt fate yet:(

      Perhaps it’s time to get back on the spiritual quest I had begun before I went home to look after Ma and Papa – who knows? Just as I knew, one day long ago, that I just had to come and see this place, this Lanka, I know something will prompt the next stage of my life:)

  9. Great post, and something we’ve all had to or will have to consider at some time in one way or another. Moving on in a journney from a place or something you love is the hardest. You want to stay and keep things as they are but it’s bittersweet, knowing you need to take the next steps. All I can suggest is find something wonderful in those next steps to move on to, to ease the pain of departure.

    • Thank you my dear, I do appreciate your advice. I feel sure that once I’ve adequately settled The Girls much of the dread will turn to excitement – I’m always a bit driven about going toward the unknown.

      While I’m waiting for the universe to provide some inspiration about that, I thought I’d really do a blitz on exploring my island with my modern camera, and going up north, now that the war is over. My lease is up at the end of November, so I’m giving myself till then, which isn’t long, but hopefully long enough to get a smashing gallery of pictures and stories together.

      • I’m with you on this one more than you realise, other than the Girls but I understand, only mine left me, and know anything you do will be tinged by that. We have a timetable for leaving Sydney & while we have a place & plan for the future to a certain extent much of the long term practical detail is unknown. Leaving Sydney is a mixed bag. Some aspects will be missed and some not but our re-location last year pre-empted a lot of the pain. The plan to travel after we leave Sydney is the carrot and hopefully will ease the transition but I’m well aware of the reality that awaits us after that 😉

        • i do appreciate your frankness, Ella. I had wondered, I must admit. But, the country will be a wonderful base from which to travel the world, as much as you want, and can afford and perhaps the down time to discover another aspect of country living.

          I’m feeling more comfortable with leaving, though fretting still about The Girls – every instant i see Maggie (who seems to be spoken for – fingers crossed) my heart breaks a little. It was foolish and short-sighted of me to imagine i could live here long enough to have dogs …

          Thanks for your encouragement:)

  10. Terrible decisions are always hard to make, I hope that you will be able to find a great home for The Girls, and hopefully who ever you find loves them as much as you do. Would also be nice if they keep in contact and keep you updated on how they are doing.

    • Thanks, Kristopher. I wonder whether that would be a good idea or not? Perhaps a clean break will be best? Certainly I have to be sure they are going into a suitably loving and responsible environment.

      • I guess you could think of it like a band-aid, better to do it quickly rather than slowly, which in this case could be a clean break. Like a new chapter in their lives and a new one in yours.

  11. I hope your clear-sightedness leads you to whatever you need for a happy and healthy future.

    Seeing in black and white your clear exposition makes me realise why so many of our expat friends have gone or are going back to UK. But after 20 years, our support network is here in France. If we moved, we would have to lower our standard of living and lose most of our friends, ending up worse off. For us it’s a no brainer – stay here.

    • Ah, Viv, I’m so glad for you. I sometimes wonder, if I hadn’t spent those ten years looking after Ma and Papa, if I’d be in pretty much the same situation as you. But at the end of the day this unmarried, childless, wandering woman just doesn’t fit into the fabric of society here, and no matter how long I’d been living here full-time, nothing would change that.

      Thank you for your wishes – I’m waiting to settle The Girls, then I’m sure some inspiration will emerge from somewhere. Like you, I’ve handled a bit of change in my life and am unafraid, at least. 🙂

  12. This is the most eloquent of posts and I applaud your brave decision. Hope it all turns out well for you, and we’ll surely all keep following.

    • Thanks, Jo – I do appreciate your support and compliment. I don’t know whether it’s brave so much as pragmatic. At the end of the day, with no family of any sort now, I have to do what is best for my welfare, otherwise I put myself in too vulnerable a position, even for me!

  13. It’s the passing of time, the getting older – it frees us … and then grabs us back. But for that time, we’ve had the freedom and it will sustain us. Sorry, I couldn’t say nothing at such a time …

    • Never settling down and having children, I’ve had a fantastic life of freedom, Lynn and you’ll never hear me complain on that score. Clipped wings will be a challenge to deal with, that’s for sure, but as you say easier to deal with knowing that I’ve been able to do most of the things I’d ever dreamed of … 🙂

    • That is the most beautiful sentiment, Nature, though perhaps a little more dramatic than my situation warrants.

      One of the blessings of being pretty well unattached is that there’s very little that can hurt me to that extent any more. The sense of guilt, and responsibility I feel for The Girls is of a different ilk, and the selfishness of not being able to do what I want is just that. Battling oneself is a fruitless battle, more deserving of a swift kick than sympathy! But I thank you for it, all the same:)

  14. Oh no 😦 Leaving a place you love is difficult, and even more so that you also have to leave the girls behind. But after a storm comes sunshine. I hope everything turns out for the best.

    • Thank you very much, Happysherlock. I always think whatever is, is, and try to make the most of it. I also think this move and the subsequent clipping of my wandering ways will be a test – probably one I need to learn how to resolve:)

  15. Such a dramatic change may well have a wonderful silver lining. I have found the world usually does.

    That last photo is great, it amazes me that it is of a gathering storm. It looks just like a bushfire sky. I would rather the storm though!

  16. You are smart to do it now while you are still able to make new friends and “start over”. I hope you find a lovely place. Sri Lanka will still be there.

    • That’s a nice thought. And my friends can come to visit me:)

      I don’t know about smart – pragmatic perhaps. With no family, I’m well aware that I have to do things for myself, or forego all control and leave it to others, which is untenable and not going to happen!

  17. What an excellent post yet so hard to reach the time that you have to leave a place you love. I have moved several times in my life. No where near as far or exotic yet each time was difficult. Hopefully you can find a new paradise which knowing you, you will. You are the wanderlust gene right?! Plus there are still many places to explore so on to your next paradise…we’ll be waiting!

  18. The agony of such a decision! Your situation brought back memories of childhood when we played outside for hours at a time, only we didn’t know we were playing, we thought we were on all sorts of adventures. Then would come the call we all dreaded, the call to come inside . . . I don’t know where “home” is anymore but if you know that much you are way ahead of me!

    I wish you all the best with what it is you have to do as you move on to further adventures!

    • I love your analogy of coming inside after the freedom to play outside all day – that’s pretty well spot on! What was it you said Patti? “Chasing the light through endless tunnels for an answer to the never-ending question “Where are you from?” Upon reflection, there are times I hardly know where I am, let alone where I am from but for the moment I am from here, wherever that happens to be!”

      The vexed question of ‘home’ has been eluding me for fifty years and this is likely the best expression of what I felt most of that time.

      Now, I’ve at last discovered that ‘home’ is where my view of the world is implicitly understood, where I not only understand the words, but also their subtext, where jokes and humour and the things that motivate me come from a well of shared, or common experiences. I find that after all, ‘home’ is the place I came from, the place that was always there, like one’s parents, when one is growing up – the safety net behind the bid for independence. I’m still suspicious of ‘nationalism’, ‘patriotism’, and all the other ‘isms’ relating to the collectivisation of ‘us’, and I have yet to decide where, on that vast continent I’ll settle, but I’ve got a plan for discovering that!

      • Have fun with your discovery which, I gather, you are making on your own and for yourself? I overheard my husband telling someone not so long ago that “our” plans are to retire to X which was a surprise to me . . .

        I share your suspicions of nationalism et al which makes the question of “where are you from” even more difficult when country of origin is not my identifier.

        As big as the question is, as to where now to make your home, would you have had it any other way? Hard to fight that WLG!

        • Impossible to fight it, Patti, and no, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the life I’ve had to date, so no, never a moment’s regret or wishing for anything other than where I am now, wondering about the next move, alone. That – the alone – is not a regret, but yes, a sadness, I suppose, but is in reality the way it’s been all my life – an only child growing up in the country, travelling …

          It’s been so interesting ‘chatting’ with you about this Patti. 🙂

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