To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic American novel by the late, great Harper Lee. It was also made into a stunning movie featuring Gregory Peck as every woman’s highly confusing boyfriend/father figure, Atticus Finch.
Rumer Godden was a prolific, popular author that not many people seem to remember these days. She wrote over 60 adult fiction, children’s fiction, nonfiction and poetry books, several of which were made into movies, including my favourite, The River. Here is the story of the Lama and the flood from Rungli-rungliot/Thus Far and No Further:
If you or someone you care about has been affected by prostate cancer, contact:
In Australia – Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia
In the US – Prostate Cancer Foundation
In the UK – Prostate Cancer UK
I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which I live, work, and record Pillow Talking, the Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.
Pillow Talking contains adult themes and sometimes strong language, so please use your discretion for where and how you listen, and who you listen with.
Hi everyone, and thank you for joining me, wherever in the world you happen to be. This isn’t the in-between season bonus I had in mind, and it won’t be what you’re expecting, but it’s important, so I hope you’ll stick with me.
The past few months haven’t been what I expected, either. And I’m still processing it all so today’s episode comes to you in two parts: first, A Message from Story Street. I recorded that one in the car in Story Street, Melbourne, so you’ll notice a bit of a change in the quality of the sound. Next is a previously-published piece I wrote called, “Hey, Boo”, which I think fits with everything I want to tell you today.
I’ll touch base with you in between the two pieces, so see you in a bit.
Hi, so I’m not in the cone of silence to today. I’m actually recording on my phone in the car and I’m in a quiet street, but you’ll hear all kinds of things. There’ll be cars and people chatting as they walk by. And I think maybe there’s a school nearby.
But where I am is that I’m at the back of the Royal Melbourne Hospital because Shane is here having a procedure to find out why he’s sick. Initially I was meant to be waiting nearby in a café or a library and then we changed plans yesterday when we’ve had yet another COVID scare here in Melbourne. And I decided to go home for the three to five hours that I was told the whole thing would take. And I was on the freeway and a quarter of the way through. Sorry, a quarter of the way home. I looked up and I saw the biggest kite I have ever seen in my life. It was glorious. It was so huge, so long. It was massive, metres and metres tall. And as I saw it and thought, “I wonder what that means?” I got a phone call from Shane telling me that it was only going to take an hour and a half and I should turn around and come back. So I did.
And now I’m waiting and I don’t really want to go into a café. I’m just in my little bubble here in the car waiting. I’m waiting nearby because Shane told me that from the moment I get the phone call, they give me between 30 and 45 minutes to get there to pick him up. And I said, “Well, what happens if I don’t make it? What happens if I arrive five minutes late?” And he said, “You get here five minutes late, you’ll arrive just in time to see them wheeling me out the back and tipping me into the dumpster.” So I am behind the hospital here, and if nothing else, I will see if they take him out into the dumpster.
The past few weeks while we’ve been waiting for his appointment to come up have been really strange and we’ve had all kinds of conversations about what this could mean. And we’ve run the gamut of emotion even while remaining really positive. And, you know, we’re both realistic and positive at the same time, but you know, you start talking about all kinds of things. What things can mean. If there’s going to be a change, how you prepare for the change.
And it really puts you through your paces. Even… even if tests come back and it was all like a false alarm, you go through something like this and it does change you a bit every time you have a bit of a fright. It… it makes you question all kinds of things. I’m not saying this is cataclysmic in any way, but there are some times when you’re forced to confront certain things, and it does change something inside.
This has made Shane and me think about all kinds of things, and revisit some of the things that we suspected would happen. But we hadn’t thought about them for a while. So, you know, when you get together with the love of your life you… you look ahead and you say “We’ve got our entire lives ahead of us”. Well, when you meet middle age, the rest of your lives is rather shorter than when you meet when you’re really young. And this has been a common theme for us. We’d go, “How much time is it going to be? What do we have here?”
And it’s funny because I hadn’t thought about it since I talked to a friend of mine called Lee, who is my older woman friend. And she is the maternal figure in my life. And she’s been with her husband now for so many years – 60 years, I think. And we were having a conversation, I think it was about 10 years ago…
It might not be 60 years, it might be on 50. Only 50. Oh! We’re having a conversation and I said something to her: “Oh, wow. You guys have been together for that long!” And she said, “You know, we’re getting on now, but you know, it’s never enough, the time. It’s never enough”.
And that’s kind of when I put it out of my head, because it was understood that no matter how long it is, when you’re with someone and you’re just, you’re in it together, the time can never be enough. And Lee is right. There can never be enough time.
But why this little update is so hard for me is because I am a storyteller. And Pillow Talking is a storytelling podcast. You know, it’s not a relationships podcast. Like I’ve said before, you know, you don’t listen to Pillow Talking so you can necessarily learn how to have a successful relationship or anything like that. It’s stories, and stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And this one doesn’t. We’re right smack in the middle of something. So I guess that’s where I come back to what Lee said: if it can never be long enough, does that mean that when relationships end or somebody dies, isn’t it always like, right smack in the middle of something? I kind of have the feeling that it would be, even if you were to have everything tied up so neatly, and everything that could be said has been said, everything that could be done had been done.
I don’t know… Life is full of possibilities. And I kind of think that when that’s the case, as long as there’s possibilities – endless possibilities – for choice for action, that this kind of thing always happens smack in the middle of something.
So there’s no real conclusion, but here’s what I can tell you. I’m taking Shane home in this little convertible, and the sun’s coming out. And depending on how he feels after the anesthetic, I might say, “Hey, let’s put the top down”. And we’ll keep going. We’ll continue with whatever it is that we were smack in the middle of, and maybe follow a different storyline, or maybe complete this one. I don’t know. All I know is that… what do I know? I don’t know.
This is important. It’s an important thing that’s happening, but so are so many other little things that happen every day. So many little things that are so important. What makes things important is not just the impact they have on our lives, but the attention we give them. And maybe, maybe if things are important, not just because of the impact they have on our lives but because of the attention we give them, then maybe all the little things that we pay attention to on a daily basis… they can help us. Those little things can help us with the things that have got potential to have much bigger impact. I hope so.
I hope that just like I can take comfort from putting the top down on this car and feeling the wind, sometimes the biting cold, on my face, and smell the smells and feel the sun on my skin, the little things can just help me cope with the bigger ones a bit better. Help us. Not just me.
This is a ramble, not really a story. And yet, I hope that it fits into the theme of what I’ve been trying to do this year with this project I call Pillow Talking. I hope it gets across that the moments we live are worth recording. They’re worth telling; not just experiencing in real time, but passing on.
This is a ramble without a story, but I wanted to tell you anyway. I guess to say that even stories without an ending are still worth telling. And I’m here, and sometimes life isn’t easily wrapped up with a conclusion or a denouement, or anything that I can learn from just yet. Life is messy. And when you’re going through stuff, you can’t… can’t find the lesson in it. You know, those feelings when you’re going through stuff – you’re not going to philosophise and people who say, “Hey, look at it this way!” – they deserve to be headbutted. But really, you can’t be looking at learning the lesson while you’re going through it. While you are going through it, you’re just hanging on and doing your best. The lessons come afterwards. And that means that for a story without an ending, for this ramble, there’s no ending. It’s just unfinished and messy. And it’s really showed me up as someone who’s all too human with very, very few answers.
I’ll cut to the chase: the procedure was a biopsy and Shane has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I won’t lie, it’s a kick in the guts. First because cancer is always a kick in the guts, and second because the treatment changes pretty much everything you can imagine. It won’t just affect him – it will affect us.
So that’s that. We’re OK. We’re taking it one day at a time. Sometimes when we can’t face taking it a day at a time, we take it an hour at a time, or even a minute at a time. So some days are good, some days are bad. Some hours are good, some hours are bad. There’s still a lot we don’t know so the uncertainty is extreme, and for someone like me, who likes to know what’s coming so she can prepare and doesn’t mind a spoiler, the uncertainty sucks.
But by and large we’re keeping positive and pragmatic.
Maybe a dream I had will help explain where I am in my head and heart. If you’re into Jungian dream analysis, the symbols will leap out at you. If you’re not, feel free to skip ahead.
I dreamt I lived in a wooden shack by the sea. One day it became obvious that the water was rising. Whether it was global warming or a king tide I don’t know, but it began lapping at the front door. Then it began to seep up through the floorboards. Other people who lived in the house came to me in a panic and I was impatient with them, not believing that this was a serious thing, so I marched to the living room to see the water seeping through the floorboards. Into my mind came the words, “Rungli-rungliot”.
Rungli-rungliot is the name of a book by one of my favourite authors, Rumer Godden. Rumer Godden tells the Indian legend of a flood as big as Noah’s that threatened the people of the Himalayas. When the people ran to the Lama to tell him of the flood, he wasn’t perturbed: he calmly went outside and put his hand forth to the flood. “Rungli-rungliot” he said, “Thus far and no further”. The waters stopped rising, and then they subsided.
In my dream I thought, “Hey, I’m spiritual. I’m kinda holy.” So I confidently put my hand out and commanded, “Rungli-rungliot”. But the water kept rising and rising. Only then did I get nervous. I opened the door to see how bad the water was and there, bearing down on us, was a wall of sea and a giant wave like the one that capsized the ship in The Poseidon Adventure.
Then, like it happens in dreams or movies, we cut to the next part. Here we were on a ship, dressed for a journey; in the dream I understood that I’d lost everything and we were migrating to a new land. The same sea that had destroyed my life was taking me to a new life; I knew it would be hard, but I also knew it was full of possibilities.
Which brings me to the second part of this episode, Hey Boo.
I hope you enjoy. I’ll see you soon with another bonus episode. Until then, please understand that I’m most sincere when I say: please take care of yourselves. And each other.
I never wore a cross around my neck, despite being christened Catholic. I wore a small gold pendant whose base slid out to reveal a tiny Koran. I didn’t understand the book, but I understood the story.
My grandfather, who migrated to Argentina in the ‘30s, visited his family in the Lebanon just once, in the early ‘70s. He took with him suitcases of clothes and every gift, from handkerchiefs to shirts, we had given him every birthday and Christmas for years; he’d never used them, just put them away “for the Lebanon”. When he came back, his suitcases were empty. He only came back with the clothes he was wearing and a handful of gifts, including these pendants for his granddaughters, daughters-in-law, and wife.
Then my pendant was stolen; my symbol of love, sacrifice, and courage lost. And you know how I love me a symbol.
As we all tend to. Wedding rings, crosses, dog tags, lockets, charms… symbolic things we wear on our persons and I say that quite deliberately as opposed to saying “our bodies”, because it is definitely the person who wears something like this. When the something is worn always, or regularly, that person is saying something.
We fiddle with our rings when nervous, slide our pendants along the chain when thinking, as if they have some magic ability to help get us through this moment. Which is interesting, because the reason that dangly on your bracelet is called a charm is because it was originally meant to be a kind of wearable incantation, an amulet to protect you and keep you from evil. Not that we tend to think of charms this way now, but we still fiddle with them, and I wonder what it is that we are subconsciously trying to summon forth.
For my birthday last year I commissioned a piece from my silversmith niece: a pendant to represent Boo Radley’s tree. That was the only guideline. I left everything else to her.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout and Jem Finch fear the town’s bogeyman, Boo Radley. Never seen, he is the stuff of legend: mad and murderous. But Scout and Jem begin finding presents in a hollow knot of a tree outside the Radley house, and it is obvious the gifts are from Boo Radley to them: sticks of Wrigley’s Double Mint gum, a broken pocket watch, a spelling bee medal, a boy and girl carved out of soap. In the end, Boo Radley turns out to be not just human, but the very essence of humanity when he rescues them from a man who really is both mad and murderous. “Hey, Boo,” Scout says when she recognises him. And he smiles. The smile of a man who is, for the first time, truly seen.
At this point in the book or movie, I normally cry.
My niece turned in a pendant that was far more than I could have imagined or hoped for. She demonstrated how the back spins so I can decide whether that day I will see the soap carvings, or the gum, or the pocket watch. And she showed me the message on the back – Hey, Boo. At that point, I cried.
I wear Boo Radley’s tree almost every day now, and I find myself grasping it in my tight fist far more than I thought I ever would. There is so much to think about every day, so much to feel, particularly when each day presents you with a bunch of unknowns, and by Heaven, I have so many unknowns before me these days. As I confront long-held beliefs that I realise I must finally get rid of, as I do things I never imagined doing before, as I begin-again yet again, as I forge a new path, my heart pounds, but resting above my heart is Boo Radley’s tree.
Reminding me that the thing you fear the most can have hidden, unexpected, wondrous gifts. That the thing you fear the most can ultimately save your life.
It is a simple reminder. A simple kind of faith.
Some people wear crosses.