Some experiences…

A “Grovian” November Experience AKA “The gyroscope in Jennifer’s garden in Normandy after dark”


There are moments in life that make sense of the seemingly endless journeying. Working with David Grove out in the magical land of La Bouvetière ( Jennifer de Gandt’s house of wonders in the Normandy countryside) is one of these. These moments can only be described because to interpret them would be to cover them in layers of meaning. These are moments of unravelling – of revealing the unseen. It is like going to an etymological dictionary and discovering the original sense of a word and there is simply no more to say. It is that!

So here is a description of what happened to me within the context of an experiential three days that I shared with fellow “travellers” in November this year.
It is dark and the night is cold – very cold.

I am seated in a large contraption alternatively named a whirligig or a gyroscope.
I am wearing a felt top hat of many colours to keep my head warm and a skiing jacket.
David says, “You can get down, whenever you want”.
Diane waits with me in the biting cold – watching over me. After a while David orders her inside.
I am alone – unmoving – in the night.
The stars are icy clear.
I see the group inside working together – in the light – in the warmth.
They are there, together and I am here, alone.
It is thus.
I sink further into the cold and feel it biting my toes, eating my legs.
I do not move.
I think vaguely that this is what is like to be dead: seeing and hearing but having no connection to the living. Strangely, there is no fear, only cold and contemplation. There is a pristine quality to the cold and the night.
After some time, David appears and simultaneously I see the table. It is a garden table made of wood and the moonlight is catching a shard of water lying, luminous on its surface. I have seen this table many times in the garden but tonight, at that moment, it is absorbed in mystery.

I say, “It is the table, David.” I refer to the “table” of last year’s journey when, in the stillness at the end of a long narrative, I sat down at a table for an encounter with a timeless, faceless “opponent” that I knew I had to get to know. I referred to that encounter as a meeting with the faceless embodiment of Death.
David slowly tips the gyroscope down to the left and my body is racked with a deep sobbing.
He moves it slightly to the right and across. My right arm reaches out and my hand gropes desperately in the blackness. “I can’t find it,” I sob helplessly.
He tilts it upwards and I am gasping for breath – taking in great gulps of freezing air and it is not enough.
The night is endless.
He moves the seat up and to the left and my eyes catch the stars.
My hand reaches out and my whole being is bathed in wondrous beauty.
Small “oh-s” escape my lips and a sense of deep gratitude swells within me and spills over the edges of my eyes.
I am brought back to the starting position, upright, facing forward and level to the ground. I say repeatedly, “It is so beautiful.”
I say, “I am cold”.
David fetches hot tea and while I am sipping hot tea and gazing, transfixed, at the table, I can only continue to say, “It is just so beautiful – Thank you”.
From the reverie I hear David’s drawl (pure Down Under) saying, “Well y’ look like the Mad Hatter at a tea party, Sheila”.
And I am down.
I am back and I roar great gales of laughter and ask if he has seen Rabbit and is He keeping track of Time and are we likely to be late.
I climb down and out of the contraption. My legs are shaking – possibly from the cold.
I write the following lines spontaneously and share them with my travelling “brothers” and “sisters” at the party in the evening.

Waves foreseen and provided
You will come
And the earth shall be salted
With the people of hope
And cold shall be expelled from our hearts
We will be
One in you
Dear, dear Love.

Two Beaches and a Tangi


December and January were mostly about Christmas and New Year of course, but I guess what really marked both months were three journeys: two to beaches and the departure of David Grove which I write amply about in my Heartlines of February. In fact even my monthly epistle started with a memory of a beach from a long time ago in New Zealand. I guess you could say that my life has been marked by beaches, or shorelines at least. When I watch the moods of water on a shoreline I sense a longing for home whelming up in me. It has taken me many years to realise, perhaps, that the nostalgia is the soul’s longing to find rest. So while the old wrenching didn’t accompany me to the shore this last December, I did experience the familiar joy of finding myself once again looking out to sea and dreaming……… of what it would be hard to say, but dreaming nevertheless.

I like the beach in winter: desolate, barren, windswept, scruffy, forgotten……….. At least that’s how they are in New Zealand but of course Deauville, just 200 kilometres away from Paris, isn’t quite that forgotten. In fact Deauville simply changes its colourful summer stripes for fur coats and fussy wee dogs. The race horses that canter the waters edge are the same as those that dazzle summer visitors with their grace and elegance. I love it all the same. I love the crisp air and the quiet fading hiss of tiny waves left unmolested by raucous holiday makers. The romance of beach huts separated by low fences each named after a famous film star and the Normandy styled mansions that line the road along the beach, is somewhat marred by the clogged sky hanging over Le Havre away in the distance. Industrial pollution is for all seasons but I wish I could ignore it, now, on this perfect morning in December on a winter beach.

I made another journey to a beach in January: to Mauritius with its tropical shoreline, lush hotels and more white blubber per square metre parked around kidney shaped swimming pools than any brochure ever shows you. Usually I can’t stand feeling like a fat cat amongst people who make their living exclusively off your tourist dollars but this time it felt like being on holiday in a beautiful hotel run but independent and friendly people doing a job like anyone else any where in the world and if that was pure illusion then I was sweetly duped. Gazing out over an aqua lagoon from a balconied room and idly contemplating the sway of tropical palms decorating a white sandy shoreline was enough to convince me that if this wasn’t paradise then it wasn’t far from it. I was up early to swim before breakfast, gorged myself on fresh pineapple and passion fruit, walked for miles along the coastline on some days and loafed beside the pool with a good book on others. The island is beautiful and the people friendly. The food is excellent and the weather wraps you up in a warm fuzz every day. From this space of luxuriant green, dazzling birds and vibrant flowers it is easy to believe that all is well with the world and time is endless and for 10 days I slipped into this reverie with absolutely no difficulty. Reality stepped into paradise just before breakfast one morning to announce the sudden death of David Grove. The sea didn’t change colour and the palm trees continued to sway but the pineapple was without flavour that morning and the tea was cold.

I wasn’t in New Zealand for the Tangi (Maori funeral practice) that took place in the middle of January but friends were there, on the Marae to say farewell to David and, while I may not have all the facts right, this is what I am keeping in my mind as a part of the story of his departure. They told me that David’s body was taken to the Marae in a casket and it lay on Maori ceremonial ground for 24 hours surrounded by friends and family. There was a funny part where one of the pall bearers realised that he had to get his shoes off and get through a narrow door while still carrying the casket with 5 others also trying to do the same thing. I could hear David giggling hilariously inside his casket. David, the one who was always asking people to go through impossible spaces but who was always there for them on their personal journeys, was demanding one last piece of contortionism. There were songs and stories and photos and memories, kids and elders, tears and laughter. There was order and rank and a whole history of Maori ancestry that maybe even David wasn’t familiar with but in a country where the claim to Maori ancestry is now a claim to spiritual identity, it was fitting that he should be honoured by his people this way. There was a speech dedicated to acknowledging David as a great human being, the last lines being: “……………..And, if greatness is determined by taking the path never travelled before With courage and dignity knowing there is a price to pay to yourself and to your loved ones, then David grove, you were truly a great man.” I was told that his brother made music on an enormous Japanese drum inside the Salvation Army Citadel. I have no doubt that the sound would have transported David to the edge of this world and on into the 6 worlds beyond and probably knocked the wee socks off the protestant community in Tauranga! And now it is all over and there is just the empty space and the conversations amongst friends who find meaning in sharing some of the crazy “Grovian” adventures etched for indelibly on his memory.

Waipapa Marae – Kawhia, New Zealand January 2009


I was in Mauritius when I heard the news of David’s death. I’d just sat down to breakfast when the voice on my Blackberry asked whether it was the right thing to do to send flowers to New Zealand. I couldn’t be there for the farewell on the Marae or for the service at the Salvation Army that followed so it was important to me that there would be an occasion to close a time of sadness one year later.

Dafanie and Nigel, very old friends of David and recently our friends, drove us to Kawhia, home of David’s ancestral Marae on the west coast of the North Island. David’s mother, Betty, sister, Barbara, niece, Sheryl and her family met us outside the Marae and primed us for Powhiri – the official Maori welcome to visitors onto ancestral land.

This Marae is small and not the only Marae that sits at the edge of Kawhia Harbour. The history of the area is rich in Maori lore and holds a very special place in the heart of the Tainui tribe as the sacred landing site of one of the 7 waka (large canoes) that brought the Maori to the shores of New Zealand a few centuries earlier. Today it is a sleepy holiday hollow that offers fresh fish from the harbour and the standard Kiwi hokey-pokey ice cream – what more can one want in life – seriously………… never mind that there is no bank or cash distributor in town!

David used to come here once a year to resource, run healing retreats and to be with his family. His photo is now on the wall of the wharenui (meeting house) next to his ancestors and I sleep on a mattress on the floor just underneath it.

But I am ahead of my story now.

First we have to be given permission to come on to the Marae.

The small welcoming party is waiting for us and the leading woman calls us on to the Marae in a Maori that comes from an ancestral soundscape. We file on to the lawn doing our best to respect the protocol of women followed by men until we come to be seated and the seating order is reversed: men in front of women. Her husband, the official dignitary for the ceremony, makes a speech in Maori accompanied by the appropriate facial expressions and skipping / hopping movements associated with the formality of the welcome. It lasts for several minutes and while the words escape us its meaning is perfectly clear. The couple then sings together in a tone infused with nostalgia for another time, another place. It is then our turn to respond. Our spokesperson returns the welcome in French that is both elegant and perfectly adapted to the formality of the occasion. I am the only one who can appreciate the beauty of his words and there are tears of gratitude in my eyes that he should raise so masterfully to such a foreign situation. He concludes his speech with a boisterous rendition of La Marseillaise and judging by the gapping grin on the face of one of the young lads in the welcoming party, there are followers of international rugby present. An envelope is then placed by our representative on the ground equidistant between the two parties. Our financial contribution to the Marae is officially recognised and we are given right of entry: “you are our family now; our doors are open to you while you are here”. We are served lunch and tea in the wharekai (dining room) and for brief 2 days we become a part of David’s ancestral heritage.

I discover the gentle sweetness of his mother, the fun and kindness of his sister and the same quietness of character as David, in his niece. We share local Kiwi fare: fish ‘n’ chips in newspaper. I go with the family in a small ferry boat to the head of the harbour where Betty wanders slowly along the paths of her childhood. I discover Jurasic rock formations and the proverbial Kiwi bach – a shack on the beach with a tin roof. I body surf some great waves on Ocean Beach with Nigel and we forget our plus 55 years. At sunset the whole party piles into a four wheel drive and we head out again for the beach at low tide. We dig holes in the sand and wait for the thermal heat to surge up and warm us. David loved to soak like this waiting for the tide to come in, so I am told. We are happy. We share David stories over dinner and I believe that we are all healing in some private way. Gratitude is replacing sorrow and loss and life is moving on again. For his family it cannot be the same without him but for friends………….. well………, we can just be thankful for the gifts we received; for the time we spent with him; for the learning; for the laughter.

March 6th 2009.