On September 11, 2001, I sat with my mother as she lay dying in a nursing home near Melbourne. Her room was empty of other people. It seemed the whole world was watching TV broadcasts of the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers in New York.
I drew the contours of Mum’s face as she gazed into my eyes and at a photo (beside me) of her other daughter Nadya. Mum’s eyes seemed full of sadness and fear. As I drew, I told her that I would keep an eye on Nadya, who had lived in and out of psychiatric institutions all her life. I asked her to let go of her fears because she had done everything she could do.
Mum had lost the ability to speak about 7 years before this day. All I could read were her eyes and the contours of her face. I drew as a way of holding onto as making some sense of this moment. Drawing and talking seemed to hold us together as she passed from life to death, into the great unknown. I remember the soft lines of the drawing (now somewhere in Tasmania) as ethereal and ‘other worldly’. I remember the simple lines that gently curve inwards as parts of an infinite spiral.
The following year, this moment with Mum resurfaced in Antarctica. This happened as I drew the first iceberg I saw from the ship as we neared the white continent. I later wrote:
Body memories of drawing my mother were recognised through the gestures I made to draw the ice. Perhaps this icy environment evokes a primal sense of mortality.
These memories of first seeing an ice berg helped me to empathise with other people who struggle with words to describe deeply felt personal experiences. It made it easy for me to understand how Antarctic ice may appear to have a life of its own. We may only be able to speak of the surface of ideas and feelings that we see in the ice. Something more primal was felt within the ice.
A recent post in Claire Beynon’s blog, The sea offers up orange deepens my knowledge that we can share expressions of connection to the world when we recognise primal forms within it. Expressions of connection to these forms can connect us to each other and to our environment at a profound level.
Here, Claire’s modes of expression are words and photographs, which reflect her experience on a beach in Dunedin and the connections she feels with the recent earthquake in nearby Christchurch (in New Zealand). Like the connection that I made, between my mother and the ice, the connections that Claire makes defy logic. However, her words and images communicate (to me and others who have commented on her site) empathic connections between all the great forces that shape our world (including us).
Primal forms (like the circle, spiral and cross) can awaken ’sublime’ feelings of connection to the great and unknown forces that shape the natural world (including melting icebergs, erupting earthquakes, and every living entity transforming into death).