Tag Archives: friends

A friend and The Golden Key

My friend Oi ( pronounced O-ee) had ideas so advanced that even Quaker Meeting – that most liberal and open- minded Christian group – threw her out.

She was born in 1900, the youngest of ten, to a father who was sixty years old, and she died when she was a hundred and four – so the two life-times covered a hundred and sixty four years, and went back to 1840. Her father was a cabin boy on a ship that was wrecked on the NZ coast in 1856. Local Maoris formed a human chain to rescue him, and he stayed with them for some time, becoming very close to the chief. After returning to England, he came back with a seventeen-year-old bride, and the Maori chief gave him land to start his life here.

Robin, Oi’s father, established a huge sheep farm, built a big beautiful house, cottages for his shepherds, barns, wool-sheds and an exquisite little chapel, where Oi and her nine brothers and sisters played the organ and helped hand out prayer books to the shepherds and their families as they entered.. As each child arrived, the generous chief had given them Maori land. He ceremonially adopted Oi, and gave her the Maori name Oiroa, which roughly translated, means: ‘compassion for those in need’. Though it was shortened to Oi, she lived up to her name always, and when I met her was beloved by many people for very good reasons.

She married a distinguished Auckland architect – sometimes known as NZ’s Frank Lloyd Wright – who created many of Auckland’s great buildings, like the Railway Station, and beautiful private homes including some famous ones in the Hawkes Bay. Oi herself was very musical, and played the piano, and was so deeply involved in the musical life of her adopted city, that in the early thirties she and another musical aficionado, started the first orchestra in the city, whose descendant is still thriving.

She was beautiful –  and open-hearted and sweet-natured. She was also unhappily married to a much older controlling, jealous and angry man. Other men loved her, and I picked up hints over the years of tempestuous scenes and dramatic confrontations, one in which her loyal cleaning lady divested a desperate suitor of his shotgun at the front door. Oi received and declined her last proposal in her eighties.

Her zest for life never diminished, in spite of a son’s suicide, a difficult life, and much loneliness. Neither did her kindness fail, or her energy, for that matter. I was sure her inner life kept her young. She was often busy driving “old ladies” shopping until well into her nineties. She obviously didn’t feel she qualified for that label – yet! Her spontaneity and authenticity, happiness and serenity, endeared her to all ages.

I met her at Quaker meeting, where we were both what is called attenders, as opposed to members. On occasion when the beautiful and mystical silence was gently broken by a deeply felt message, if it was Oi, as she was known for short, it would be a profoundly mystical and eminently practical thought.

Throughout her life she was drawn to mysticism, a branch of the spiritual life which has always been mistrusted by organised religion, as its devotees seek union with the Source, whatever it is called, thus bypassing the need for priests, mullahs, rabbis, gurus or whatever. Whether these mystics were Muslim, as in the case of Rumi and the Sufis, or Christians like Master Eckhart, or St John of the Cross, they often came to a sticky end at the hands of their respective religions.

Luckily in the twentieth century, this fate is not so common, and Oi escaped lightly by just being blackballed by Quakers! She explored most branches of both Western and Eastern mysticism, and in her thirties, became a lover of Ramakrishna’s teachings, keeping a photo of him by her bed-side always. He practised several religions, including Hindu, Islam and Christianity, and taught that in spite of the differences, all religions are valid and true, and they lead to the same ultimate goal- God.

After Oi introduced herself to me, and invited me to her beautiful house (I had not been long in NZ then), we became close, and she became my mentor. My two small children looked on her as a grandparent and we loved going to her serene and peaceful home.

Though it was in the city, it sat among mature trees and a rambling, flowery garden with a stream. Her architect son had designed it for her. Music, in her mid-seventies, was still her passion. Sometimes I would arrive at the garden entrance, and hear the glorious sounds of a trio or a quartet streaming out of the windows, and I’d stand silently outside under the persimmon tree, listening to Mozart or Mahler.

When the children and I were there, we‘d often end up singing round the piano with the student who boarded with her, and was a brilliant pianist and lovely tenor. We’d all sing favourites as diverse as Handel’s, ‘Where e’er you walk”, to: “Feed the birds,” from Mary Poppins. I had another musical friend, Phillipa, whose unbearable life (a romance I ‘ll tell another time) was slightly improved by taking clarinet lessons, and since her ambition was to play in an orchestra, she needed practice playing with others.

Hearing about her, typically, Oi offered to play with her, and through music-making, they learned to love each other too. I was spending the day with Oi when I learned that the ship Phillipa was sailing on had caught fire, and she and her two small children, one handicapped, plus her six-month-old baby, were adrift in a lifeboat in a violent storm. I never saw them again.

Oi’s unorthodox thinking, which of course, was not confined to spiritual practises, but spread into all areas of her life, alienated her family who were very religious and ultra- conservative. She rarely saw them, so she began spending Christmas with us until one son who disapproved of us too, was shamed into inviting her for Christmas after many years.

So it was that her funeral – which was attended by all those people from all walks of life, whose lives she had touched with love and compassion – was a very traditional one… which slightly puzzled me, as I was sure Oi would have wanted something different.

At the end her family left, and only five of us gathered round Oi’s coffin as it was lowered into the void – the student – now a judge, her cleaning lady for the last twenty years, my two now grownup children, and I.

The judge said to us, “That wasn’t the sort of funeral I expected Oi to have”.                    “No,” piped up the cleaning lady, “I still have a copy of what she wanted!”

I suddenly remembered how Oi, when she was too old to cope with driving in inner-city traffic, had asked her lawyer to call in and take possession of her will for her funeral. She had showed it to me – an exquisite collection of sayings on love, from mystics of all faiths. To my horror, the lawyer had charged this beautiful old lady in her mid-nineties, an exorbitant fee.

Standing by her coffin now, the judge wept over this betrayal of Oi’s wishes. “One more thing for her to forgive her sons for,” he sobbed. We all wept with him.

Before she died, Oi gave me the books which had sustained her, and influenced her thinking, and which had helped her  find her path to expanded consciousness and freedom. One of the joys of reading them was that she’d underlined or marked the passages which sang to her. Not only did I find this a wonderful aid to a deeper understanding, both of the texts and of Oi, but it also taught me the pleasure of marking and making my books my own, which I had never dared to do before.

I’d grown up learning that books should be treated as sacred, and never marked, turned down, or in any way treated as familiar friends. I do it all the time now, knowing that others who eventually find their way to them will – or might – enjoy the same pleasures of insight and intimacy as I have done.

Oi’s words still remain in my mind, and often come back to me. When there was a problem she would close her eyes, and focus for a minute, then open them and say firmly: “You cannot know the solution.  You can only pray that the situation evolves for the highest good of you, and everyone else involved. And know that this will happen, and let it go.”

She’d quote T.S. Eliot: “It is not our business what others may think of us,”… or: “God wastes nothing”. She’d say : “Let go and let God.”… and, “Happiness is like water in the palm of your hand. If you gently hold your palm open, it will stay. But if you clutch it and try to hang onto it, you lose it.” She died thirteen years ago, but her loving wisdom sustains me still.

The gift she gave me, which I treasure the most, and use constantly, is ‘The Golden Key’, a tiny spiritual masterpiece of only a few words. I give it now with love, as Oi did, to anyone who thinks it may be useful to them… https://morningstar.netfirms.com/goldenkey.html

Food for threadbare gourmets – those of us who qualify for this description will go hungry today, as I feel this post is so long, I can’t expect you all to go on reading, while Food for thought is contained in Oi’s sayings and in her life…


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Life’s Like That

My life, like many, is not so much a drama as a tale of tiny things. But in the end they add up to a life. This is the tale of a few days of this week.

Tuesday          When I walked through the cemetery to the marble bench to sit in the sun, the grass seemed to be sprinkled with flowers like pink confetti. They were bright pink with yellow centres, the size of primroses, but only growing half an inch from the ground. I sat on the warm bench and looked over the turquoise harbour.

A monarch butterfly floated across and came to rest on the purply-blue flower of a creeper in the tangle of shrubs leading down to the water. I watched the orange and black wings spreading over the amethyst flower, and watched it lift off again, and swoop and flutter in a wide circle before coming back to the same flower. It then drifted to another flower head, before settling on the grass, presumably to digest its meal.

When it rose again in the air, it dropped down to a shrub where another monarch was already feasting. The two rose in the air, fluttering and dodging around each other, until my butterfly was driven away, and did a wide arc halfway round the cemetery, before coming back and settling on another bush.

I drifted back home, missing Cara the cat, and realising that when she had stopped coming with me but sat by the gate, and then, didn’t even cross the road, but sat by our path, waiting for me to return, she wasn’t being cussed – she was obviously too weak or weary in those last months to come springing across the grass with me, her tail held high, and perfectly straight.

Wednesday          Went for a walk to get away from the problems besetting me in the house. I passed a monarch butterfly fluttering on the pavement. It’s wings were almost completely chewed away, presumably while still in the chrysalis by a voracious praying mantis, but its head and body were intact. It lay there, fluttering the fragments of its ragged wings. I put it in the grass, and went for an illegal wander round Liz and Richard’s empty beautiful garden looking over the harbour.

On my way back I looked, and the butterfly was still struggling. I nerved myself to carry it to the pavement so I could stamp on it and put it out of its misery. I laid it down, and it spread its pathetic little rags in the sun, and I had the sense that it was enjoying the sunshine. I just couldn’t bring myself to stamp the life and the consciousness out of it. So I carried it gently back to the grass, and laid it in the sun.

The colours today are like summer, aquamarine sea, and snowy white foam as the waves dash onto the rocks below. The sun shines, and a bitter wind blows. It seems to have been cold for weeks, so we’re chomping through the walls of logs piled up in the garage.

It was hard to go out tonight, but I’m glad I did. Our monthly meeting when people talk about their life. Journeys, we call them. A woman who lives nearby told us how she had dissolved her three generation family business in fashion, and looked for somewhere in the world to serve. She ended up teaching in a Thai monastery, where her experiences there and at various healing sanctuaries were life- changing. She was glowing.

Thursday          Another bitterly cold day with the sun shining brightly. But the oak tree is shimmering with its new spring green, the crab apple has pink buds peeping out, and nasturtium and arctotis are beginning to spring up in their lovely untidy sprawl through the other greenery. A clutch of tuis are sucking the honey in the golden kowhai trees across the road. They are all covered thickly in their hanging yellow flowers along the roadside, and always seem like the heralds of spring.

Yesterday I got my sweet cleaning lady to help me rip down the white sheets which serve as a canopy on the veranda in summer. Have n’t had the strength in my arthritic hands to do it myself. I’ll wash them and use them to cover things in the garage – not sure what, but there’s bound to be something that will benefit. She told me the four ducklings she’d rescued sit cuddled up to each other at night and cheep for ages. “ I’d love to know what they’re saying to each other”….

Before going to Tai Chi, I rang Friend to thank her for lunch on Sunday, and found her devastated. They’d taken Smudge the cat to the vet because he’s dribbling blood and saliva. He has cancer of the jaw, and they’ve brought him home to try to eke out a few more weeks with him….

Tai Chi was freezing in the scouts hall. Coldest night for a long time. I noticed how pinched all our frozen old faces were by the end – and even the few young ones!

Friday           I rang Friend, she was struggling to get the cushion covers off the sofa, where Smudge had taken refuge from the icy night. They were covered in blood and saliva, so I promised to get my sheets from the veranda washed and dried by tonight so that she can drape them over the two sofas. Then took her for a consolatory coffee at the Market, where we gorged ourselves on good coffee and delicious lemon cake well blanketed in whipped cream… so much for diabetes and arthritis!

As I was writing this, I heard the noise of many children all chattering at onceGot up to look out of the window to see why, and saw two little girls making their way down the steps. I got to the door as they did, and was assailed by both of them talking at once as loud as they could. They were collecting for an animal charity, and the commotion was simply two seven year olds talking at once, and neither listening to the other. I emptied my purse of change and they went on their way well pleased.

So this is life, what happens between getting up to make a cup of tea to take back to bed in the morning, checking the e-mails and reading blogs, keeping the fire piled high with dry logs, and going back to that warm bed at night, with the electric blanket on high, a tray of tea for last thing, and a good book!

This is the raw material, and whether we make a silk purse out of it, or see it as a sow’s ear, it’s up to us. It can be satisfying or it can be boring, but the choice is ours. But as I go through my gratitude list at night before slipping into sleep, there seems much to thank the God of Small Things for.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Friends dropped in for glass of wine, and apart from a tin of olives stuffed with anchovies, which is a waste of good olives and anchovies to me, I had nothing for the wine to soak into. (I’ve taken to heart the advice to always have a few bites of something first, so the sugar in the wine doesn’t go straight into the blood stream. I also find the wine tastes much nicer if it isn’t sipped on an empty stomach). A dash to the village shop, and I came home with a little pack of the cheapest blue vein cheese, and a carton of cream cheese. Mixed together they make a lovely spread on little chunks of crusty roll, or any good water biscuit. It was enough.

Food for Thought

We thank God then, for the pleasures, joys and triumphs of marriage; for the cups of tea we bring each other, and the seedlings in the garden frame; for the domestic drama of meetings and partings, sickness and recovery; for the grace of occasional extravagance, flowers on birthdays and unexpected presents; for talk at evenings of events of the day…

From Christian Faith and Practise in the Experience of the Society of Friends.

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