Angels in the shade of farewell

Written May 31, 2023 By Peter Nathaniel Lee

Goodbyes come in all sizes, and rarely suit all.

The sky is pastel blue with a warm orange glow where the sun sets, the light a soft brush stoke behind the deeper shade of the mountains.

The air in New Zealand is still like a picture. Still, like a landscape pause on Attenborough. Still, as though I am holding my breath and waiting to move. I am getting ready to leave. Still.

I say goodbye to the land first, walk past the willow circle, stroke the bark of the old oak on the ridge where I watched the days disappear. Stroke the noses of the curious cows that come by the herd to watch me chop the hedges back. The sheep run at ten yards as they’ve always done. Except Alice, hand reared by humans, she now lives in the fields on the edge of the flock. She says goodbye with knowing eyes as I tickle her ears farewell.

Angels tread this earth, did you know? I have seen them, and I have crossed the flattened grass where their wake is lined with dew and the gentle morning light.

They dance before us leading with tickles and sound and flash, dangle breadcrumbs on the covers of our waters; the background track in the passing car, the shuffle song in the moments that jar, the numbers above doors, and the time that always shows 11.11 when you look at the clock.

Life seems to me to be a series of overlapping circles. We weave in and out of each other’s lives. Kindness forms around the joints like glue, giving you the strength to pass another cycle, loop another turn, and keep spiraling on, hopefully going up.

I am leaving once again. Sometimes it feels that the story of my life is one long goodbye. Airport hard chairs are more familiar to me than any cozy, armchair fireplace stare. Escalator stairs to busy platform waits, and the ticket desk concierge is a hero with a thousand faces to my own glass image. This ritual of access, this departing mode of being, well trained at holding emotions in check, thinking ahead but not too far, and not too far back. Thoughts that reach to the next bus, the train time leaving, the airport checking in desk, and never further. Because when you are going, you don’t know where touch down will be.

If the being of I, is in the being seen by you, and we need the other to experience who we are, then who do we become, if who we are is the person who is always leaving or always beginning?

If I leave you, you love me as I go. If I return to you, you love me because you felt the absence. If I stay, you see the front of me, you taste the stale breath of a morning kiss. You catch the plate on the sideboard with slowly stubborn stains hardening in the sink, and the stray hair on the white toilet seat. When you stay, your mistakes are counted for and weighed. When you leave, all is forgiven, because in the space that held you, no mistake can fill. There is safety in the distance.

The angles of leaving are a frozen down-turned face. A backpack with two legs walking smaller. A side-on kiss, a hug you don’t want to miss; the hiss and chug of a romantic platform run, the shouting out from a window leaning face pressed into the sun, and out then, of the shadow of a station roof; a red balloon on a clear sky day. And the Angels watch and wish that one day you’ll stay and let love grow.

Angels tread this earth, and I know, because their kindness follows me still. I found it in the shadow of a tall building when I needed a ride. I experienced it through friends of a friend who did not need to hire, but did. Another friend who sent a new year’s gift when I was in need. I recognize their passage in the discovery that I have family around the corner on every side of the globe that I never knew. I found it in the eyes of a stranger that I have always known. Do you see what I am saying? It doesn’t matter how far you go…You can’t hide from love.

I leave ‘Magic Farm’ in that moment just before the dawn. The light from the door carves the dark into a frame for my shadow. I turn and see my host and friend, blue eyes bright, nothing but love and understanding shining in the light. What a teacher, such a friend, an inspirational mother and lover of life. Dear Fran, it’s goodbye for now, in this life or the next. Thank you for allowing me into your family and home to grow.

Three months in someone else’s life. Three boys say their goodbyes. Each one a little me trapped in a prism of remembered age.

Tom fidgets. At eleven, he senses the man he is changing into, which means he cannot press tight. He stands sideways to hug me bye, but comes back again and again, because the boy he was inside doesn’t quite get enough, wants to cry. Tom receives the love in small bites, little and often.

Sam comes fierce. We fought the day before, argued over wrong and right behavior and I explain to him that I only tell him straight and labor the point, because I care. If I didn’t, then I’d be out of the door. Instead, I stare him down and explain that love need not feel like pain. A cloud gathers and we wait each other out.

In the dark he ambushes me outside the bathroom door, stained checks with hungry tears, they hang like fat caterpillars waiting to transform in my neck and shoulder, to take wings of words and words and words, just sounds and blurs that become keys that open my stoic heart. I hold him in my arms and feel his nine year old body shake. I notice how strange it is to be the comforter to a child so like myself.

I reflect on changes, because I used to fear having children in case they reminded me of me, and I’d find a way to push them away as I do with myself still, always going further and further afield from those I love and need, to the next adventure, to a new port where no one knows ya. He wants to know if he’ll see me again, and I tell him that the world is a small place, and full of meetings and re-uniting. I tell him that Love comes easy when you speak the language of the heart, and in that realm, time and space hold no spell. We are always beside and within each other. I wipe his tears and nose with a thumb, and then he’s gone.

Alex is last, recently seven. Noble and brave, he’s been saying goodbye to me for weeks now—quiet and regular. He understands the fragility of life. That moments are not cheap. A long hug here and there, a tug on my beard, a pull of my hair. I have the bruises from the bouncing game we made on the trampoline he named ‘Zombie bouncing bugs’. He walks towards me stiff with morning tired, throws his arms around me like a cold man drowning in thick air. I bend awkwardly at the hip, kneel a leg and sit him on my knee and look for his face that slides into a place on my chest.

I never signed up for this, to be a kite of love. Hooks in the heart and on a line, I blow in the wind once more, the string tight and tugs with the three little boys each pulling the string in time, I soar, I fly, I hang in the no-space between other people’s lives – Such a blue sky; where the sun always shines.

I know that as I walk out that door, into the not quite gone night, that when I turn back, I’ll see the light shrink with every step, until it is another bright star on this journey and flight called life.
So leaving has become familiar, going away has become my home state, and now my state of home is back in my bag. What is a snail without its shell? How does a night owl feel in daylight with no tree? What is the purpose of a nomad in a world of societies of staying still?

I stand in the bus station coffee queue. ‘The Mull of Kintyre’ plays on the radio. It’s the first song in the music learner’s book. Suddenly I am standing in front of my parents with the new guitar they bought me for my sixteenth birthday, overlarge in my young arms. I fumble over the chords and strings like an eager virgin with his flies. My Dad goes out and returns with his bagpipes and begins to play the melody. The melody in the cafe is a chorus of many pipers, with Paul McCartney’s voice singing. “Carry me home.” But I can only hear one piper, playing long and mournful, still from the corner of my childhood bedroom. There are no coincidences. Life is not a liner story. The Angels pressed the button play to reassure me, it’s safe to let the tears flow and I can be carried home, well, anytime.

The motion of the bus is a welcome relief. This is a familiar seat. I’ve seen the face in the glass as the world rolls past, transparent, it knows to look at myself when safely away from all that love, last.
The bus travels through a Narnia in summertime fast. Tall pine trees hug the slopes, a hundred thousand pale pebbles pepper the rivers flow beside the road – did your tongue stick then?

Later, the sky is pastel blue with a warm orange glow where the sun sets, and the light is like a loving brush stroke against the deeper blue of the mountain it is behind. The air in New Zealand is still, still like a picture, still like a landscape pause on Attenborough, still like I am holding my breath and waiting to move. Still, I am getting ready to leave. Still.

When you leave and return you feel the love the most, and in the in-between, that furthest point, the cusp of the circle you travel, you feel love as loneliness. Go away slowly and come back soon. I have discovered my gift and curse in this realm. I am an addict of the outside-in view.

Expanding through the universe in our own mimic of the big bang, we grow, we go further…weave, we leave, in and out… One door closes as another one opens…

There are Angels in the world. They come in many guises, and they walk between worlds, and in the folds and joins of our loops, the kindness they share can last a lifetime, and carry you across the globe.

I walk in the soft evening light of my last in New Zealand, and I know that in Heaven, it will always be like this light of the day. The sun just behind the mountain, cascading beams high like a halo on the horizon, it could be the rise of a morning new, or the fading end of evening old – In heaven the sun is always about to say hello, or, it has just said farewell.

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