Was it the notes reminiscent of a song you shared with me, drifting though the traffic noise? Or the screeches of excited kids running into the city square recently transformed into an ice rink? Was it the warmth on my shoulder, caressed into my otherwise frozen body by the heat of the previous occupant of that cold taxi inching me slowly through the Christmas crowds? Was it simply the shockingly early darkness of a Scottish winter evening?
We laughed often of the madness of living here in Scotland – we two, the sun lovers, the wanderers. You teased me every winter when I complained, reminded me every summer when I told you of how much I gloried in sitting out at nearly midnight, darkness only just fallen.
Maybe the grief just sits there all the time, waiting for a good moment to pull itself up out of the dark corner it calls home, feeling its way into my heart. The back of a slow moving taxi on a dark Edinburgh evening probably felt perfect. A safe space. So there it was. The familiar dark pain sliding its way through the ventricles and arteries of the softly, persistently, aching heart you left me when you left me. As ever the grief shocked me with its impertinence, the violence of its desire to be felt once again.
The tears welled up through my now inflamed and raw again heartache, up through my clenched throat, up through the years of missing you. Up through everything the universe had stolen from us too early, too quickly. Every laugh, every shared outrage at the world, or the state of the media, or the impossibility of finding a pub without muzak. Every phone call chattering about the latest book read or film seen. Every meal sharing our inability to reconcile the things we had seen and experienced with the honest conviction we both shared that life is so inexpressibly, beautifully, full of wonder. Every email revealing ourselves to each other again as undimmed in our belief that things could be, would be, better someday.
We two faithless, godless, souls found common ground in the common good. Believed despite all the evidence to the contrary in the essential goodness of humanity. Could rage with anger at the injustices of a world overrun with heartlessness and cruelty one minute, and weep with joy the next reading extracts to each other from Jimmy Reid’s Rectorial Address to Glasgow University.
I sat in the taxi and realised that of course it is only when the grief finds its way back in to my heart that I remember most fully all the love we had, all the love I still feel for you. You made me believe in joy, helped me face horror, taught me that asking questions was far, far, more important than answering them.
Ah grief, what a strange kind of blackness you are, shining a light into my aching heart. Bringing his love, my love, our love, back into the light.
Never leave me, grief. Never let me forget to feel all the love we had. Come back whenever you can. Unexpected tears in the back of a taxi are a small price to pay to find my way back to that love. A small embarrassment to endure that I might once again unleash the wonder of a life that has known such love.
I went home the night of my taxi ride and sought out the song you played for me on a different night, nearly 40 years ago. The night I asked you about the photographs I had seen in your study. Photos that had left me shaking with fear, and a need to ask questions. The night you told me what you had seen in South Africa making your film about Steve Biko. You gently unleashed the horrors of the world on your curious young niece and immediately equipped her to endure them by stoking not quashing her natural curiosity. Equipped her by sharing the beauty of the world as you revealed its darkness; for when you had finished gently, truthfully, answering my questions you played me your new Miriam Makeba album. It was that night the never ending dance between darkness and light that is life become clear to me.
I went home the night of my taxi ride and I let Miriam unleash expected tears this time. So that I could thank you for everything you gave me, feel once again the love that we shared. And remember once again that grief is simply the key to love.