This post is one of my guest blogs on To Be Shouted. Click the link to visit the archives:
Last summer I lost my uncle. Shortly after he died I had to be in Oxford for a conference. It was so beautiful there in summer, the colors so lush and vibrant. The word verdant could have been made for the fields, azure for the sky. Bees hummed, birds chirruped. The smell of baking earth filled those days, interrupted by the occasional whiff of summer flowers in full bloom. The night sky was like velvet trimmed with diamonds. The city’s old stone gave its courteous greeting.
I was lucky to be among friends. One of them took me punting along a green stretch of slow-moving river. We almost punted over a wayward duckling. Apart from that it was restful, though I was far from home and the people I loved. I kept busy with my conference assisting during the day, and spent the long glowing evenings in the care of my friends.
On my last day things changed. It was the day after the funeral. I hadn’t heard from my family. One friend and I, we’d had a falling out. It was the middle of the night, or rather, well into the morning. I hadn’t slept. After all the heightened emotion of the previous days and weeks, the feeling went out of me like a tide receding.
I woke up that morning and the color was gone. Black trees on a gray sky over sallow fields was what I saw, though it was one of the hottest days of the year and not a cloud to be found. I sat on an out-of-the-way bench by the cricket grounds, shivering and reading The Decameron. It’s funny how the mind works. Though surrounded by beautiful things I couldn’t see them, but everything in the book I could picture clearly. There was a story about a crystal-clear pool in the middle of a shady glen where fair maidens went to bathe. I wanted to wrap the story around me like a cloak, to disappear into it.
I went to the University Botanic Gardens to see the flowers. But I couldn’t, couldn’t see the colors. Just gray. I mean, I knew they were there—bold oranges, shocking pinks, subtle blues, stirring purples. But my brain made everything as gray and brown and empty as I felt. I wept openly while flocks of schoolchildren and visitors decided to take other paths, ones that I wasn’t on. I found a patch of very dark shade under some dense trees. My family called at last. I wept with them.
I do remember the golden light that afternoon as I made my way to the train station. While I was there I met a wizened old mathematician who remarked on such a young person reading The Decameron. I decided he was a wizard. I was wishing he’d take my train, but his path took him elsewhere that day. Instead I had the open arms of friends (I am grateful to have so many) awaiting me at the end of my journey. Heavy of heart but light of foot I left Oxford behind.
In time colors returned. Instead of sitting in a resplendent meadow unable to perceive the depth and brilliance of its verdure, I sit in my relatively drab little flat and pick out every morsel of pigment. The red calendar peeking out of my handbag. The blue handles on a strainer in the kitchen. My favorite green sweatshirt that is about two sizes too big for me. And in my room, the seraglio of fabrics I have draped everywhere, shimmering, stirring gently in the evening breeze.