Sunday, 6 January 2019

Signs and Portents

On the way up  Mount Ainslie in Canberra, near where my house is, there is a gum tree that someone cut down several years ago. Its beheaded log lies beside the path, not far from the summit, and every time I see it, I think of the time when my brother fell mortally ill.

When the doctors first suggested my brother’s life might be much more limited than we had hoped it would be, I showed him a photograph of that tree trunk. What makes it noticeable is the fact that, although it is supposed to be defeated and appears to have been ripped from its roots and left to die, it has somehow managed to sprout a row of saplings out of its side and they are growing fairly quickly into full sized trees.

“Signs and portents”, my brother said when he looked at my picture.

I remembered that moment the other day, as I was coming down the mountain, having passed that tree - or trunk or set of saplings, depending on your perspective - again. A little while after, I ran into someone I often meet up there. We don't know each other, except in that context and, if we are in a hurry, we have to try to avoid each other as, each time we meet, we fall into long and interesting conversations for which we do not always have time.

That day I was not in a hurry, and I trust that she wasn't either, because, as usual, we talked and talked. She told me that, like me, she had recently lost a sibling - in her case, a sister. She said that she and her sister, together with a third sister, had all been going to classes to learn sign language before the sister who is now dead fell ill.

Following the sister's death, once they had pulled themselves together, the two remaining sisters went back to those classes. And my friend from the mountain said that at that first lesson back they were asked to describe their families using sign language. She described how she watched her remaining sister sign that she had only one sister and was shocked, thinking that her sister had made a mistake. "You've got two sisters", she signed in response, and it was only at that moment that it came to her that she didn't. Each of them only had one sister now. She finally understood.

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