Ink Stains

Dedicated to Jennifer for having done all to stand, standing and inspiring me to do the same.

I have looked at the pages. I have seen their edited form. I have checked the grammar twice and leaned back in my chair with satisfaction. All is in place. It has begun to read like it should read. The story is delightful, the problems are solved, and the illustrations are perfect.

I’m a collector of stories. Somewhere in the conscious, thinking part of me I have a whole library of books. From time to time I hear again from one of the authors. There is a new chapter, something else to add and nothing quite satisfies me like the story.

My favourite text type is narrative. I love to know every detail. Who, where, when? Sometimes I need to stop and ask permission, ‘am I asking too many questions?’ but usually the author is fine with it and over time, through relationship, the story unfolds. Best friends are discovered when the complications arise, and complications will arise or it won’t be a story.

I try to teach my children this in writing. There has to be a problem though it seems so unfair to look into their eyes and make them realise that the story was good in the end because something went wrong. A problem was resolved.

In the midst of complication, characters form. It’s surprising who comes. It’s surprising who goes off the scene for a while. We all have our stories and our reasons for what we do and none of this is wrong. It is, what it is. We muddle through. We deal with what we have. We fall into the arms of those who were there to catch us.

I marvel this morning as an email arrives in my inbox. Good news from a dear friend and tears drop into my morning cup of tea as I read. If you knew her story you would cry with me. Her life had just fallen into place, after years of battles, after complications you could never imagine had been resolved, as we looked at her story in its perfect form, as we rejoiced, as we sighed about how good it was; out of nowhere the unexpected happened and her life spiralled down.

What do you do when your perfect life, the one you have fought for, the one that wasn’t just handed to you on a silver platter completely falls apart? What do you do when someone spills the ink well on your final draft? How do you scratch off the stain? How do you live with the voice in your head that says somehow it was your fault? That you are to blame, that if only you had done this thing or the other thing life would have continued to work out for you.

I have turned these questions around in my head. I have stared at the page where my dreams used to be. Now they are covered with ink, blocked from view and I have become Hermann Rorschach analyzing what I see. Is it a vase or two people face to face? Is it a young, elegant woman or is it an old hag? What is the relationship between what we see and what is real? How do our perceptions form our paradigms?

I worry that I have become too deep and I ask a friend that I trust if this is so. She reminds me to stay close enough to the edge. So I position myself for the dig careful to not fall in, to be covered again by the falling rubble.

The story demands to be dug out. How could you let your old ambition be covered completely when you still hear its voice? You know there is some life left there. You hear its muffled cry. It wakes you in the night and in the morning you go to it and you dig some more and the tiny voice guides you, stone by stone.

Surely this is our purpose to keep searching until we have removed all the bedrock that’s hidden the treasures we’ve been called to discover. In the digging we find that life is a great quest, fraught with danger. It is a great challenge and the evidence presented is both conflicting and confusing. Yet we dig, knowing that beneath the surface there are riches to uncover. We hope it is so.

Thoreau puts it this way, “Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life … know your own bone: gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it and gnaw at it still.”

If our focus is blurred we can attribute it to the way life hit us so hard on the head from an angle we had not anticipated. We rise to our feet, dizzy with uncertainty. Still, we will not lie down. The desire for conquest tightens our core and we stabilise our position, motionless, until we decide what comes next.

There is a squawking call overhead. Cockatoo voices calling ‘this way, this way.’ These birds are parroting what they’ve been taught by man and I am cautious now, less trusting. I sit on a rock and wait for a while. I am looking through the bracken, observing, waiting, listening and as I close my eyes I ask God to let me hear His voice.

“Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on men, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face, 
and the hair on my body stood on end. It stopped, but I could not tell what it was. 
A form stood before my eyes, and I heard a hushed voice.” (Job 4:14 – 16)

I am like Job, so confronted with all that has happened but so connected to the truth that God and life is good. Through the bitter wilderness I have known the tangible closeness of God’s presence. I would not have chosen this path. I would that I could record for you a beautiful story, to present an image of my perfect life. But to do so would be to alienate you because perfect lives do not exist.

Yes there are moments of perfection. These moments exist in the simple things and are attainable to all. They are fresh cut daisies and warm bread and hot coffee. They are warm hugs and salty teardrops intermingled through close embrace. These moments are beautiful and perfect in everyway.

Yet as Paul Klee writes “To emphasize only the beautiful seems to me to be like a mathematical system that only concerns itself with positive numbers.” So I write of the pain knowing that in life, as is in painting and writing, the colours and shapes emerge in an unexpected way, as if the page dictated it.

It would be easier not to write, easier to leave it alone but as I write the truth is uncovered. Not in the way I anticipated it would but what is uncovered is great all the same. I think of my friend’s son Gilbert whose favourite colour is ‘see through.’ He told me this many years ago; when he was 5 and the thought was so profound it stays with me still.

My favourite colour has always been white but white is not a colour at all. White is the absence of colour yet ‘see through’ takes it to another level. I want ‘see through’ too. I desire clarity. I desire this stain to be gone. I want a blank canvas to write again the chronicles of my life.

I am Lady Macbeth, washing my hands, I am repeating ‘Out, damn’d spot! out I say!’ Yet the spot remains. I open my hands, i show my palms, I surrender it all to my maker. I enquire about the stain that I did not see coming, the one that covered all of my dreams and He reminds me that He has hidden me for a season.

“It is enough for the student to be like his teacher and the servant to be like His master… do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.” Matthew 10: 25-27

One of the children asks me to read “Shark in the Dark” this week by Peter Bently. We enjoy the rhythm, the rhyme and the alliteration of the story. I delight in the way it reads aloud as the children enjoy the illustrations by Ben Cort. It’s fantastic and at the end we discuss it as we always do with great books. We agree that the best solution to huge problems is always to work together in community, to help one another and this way we can look bigger than we are. The bell rang for lunch and I didn’t give the book another thought. There is much to do in Kindergarten, paintings to hang, books to mark, duties to do on the playground and I run from one activity to the next.

At the end of the day a tiny cold hand is slipped into my hand. I have this dear little boy in my class who knows just how to get my attention. He stands there, my hand in his, until I stop talking to the parent who has come to enquire about their child’s day. I feel the tender rubbing of his fingers and I lean down so that we are face to face.

“Do you know,” he starts, “its not just that all the fish worked together to look like a shadow of a giant whale that scared the shark away?”

“What else was it then?” I enquire.

“It was the squid! They have ink, you know and it covered them.”

His sister arrives to take him to his bus and I am left standing there with this huge concept from a tiny child and it’s like a message from heaven. I have swum so close to danger, I have been terrified in the depth of the seas but somehow I have lived to tell the story. Somehow I have been covered and protected, at least for now.

In the morning I return to my journal, to the vision that has been covered and as I return “its structure is at once luminous and translucent; you can see the world through it.” (Annie Dillard) I look up and over the valley I watch the colours of the morning merge out of the dark black night. Hope comes and vision follows hope like a walk through the garden on a spring day. I check my emails and my girlfriend is pregnant and it’s a wonderful miracle. It is a new birth and a promise and a resolution. Today life is so good. So incredibly good!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Ink Stains

  1. Sometimes your words are so powerful I can’t reply. Today your words are just as powerful but searching too. Please believe me when I say that you are the only one who can write what you write! As I have said to Mary there are plenty of people who can do the easy thing – you are able to do the hard thing – putting words to what is too hard for the less articulate to speak. You are giving a voice to those who know the dark places of waiting and wondering. And yet now you are in the juxtaposition of adult pain and childhood innocence. Who would have guessed how God could so beautifully intertwine them to give clarity and truthfulness to the path you don’t want to walk. As you said – accepting the reality of what is, not what you wanted. Years ago I saw an interview ( maybe Barbara Striesand?) and she said the greater the space between what you want and what you have the greater the pain. As you deal with the reality of what is you give hope and courage to others who are suffering in their own world. PS I rang NZ Random house and we are not getting Maggie’s book until the end of October. Loved read ing her blog – looking forward to her book. Thanks

    • Clare Froggatt

      Thankyou Grace, for commenting everywhere and being so patient when I get no time to reply. Maggie is magnificent, I wish you could have heard her at her launch. I am sure you will be an advocate of her writing in New Zealand as well. My book shops told me early September but it arrived a little early. It’s a heart wrenching read but so empowering.

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