Copyright Neil Barton for Beltane Fire Society
It is weird not being in a pagan performance festival, or attending one, tonight. I’m confused, a little, bouncing back and forwards. It’s Samhuinn, obviously. There are people in the streets in costume (not handmade, but actually looking slightly worse for it), there are plastic pumpkins and candy in the supermarkets (with the Frozen advent calendars peeking out from behind them, checking their watches and tapping their feet), and my calendar has that round, full look that only the word October, and the number 31, in combination, can give it.
So it’s winter, but it’s not, cos the sun I’ve been looking forward to for months is here, and my limbs have been doing that stretching, aching thing for the last few weeks, and I’ve been unfurling like the fronds I see everywhere, green sprouting from brown, in repetition till the eye can’t see. So it’s Beltane, it’s summer. It’s the bit where I walk around a hill (sometimes with two sticks, sometimes with one, sometimes with a warm coat and a flask of something warmer) in the dark and I grin larger than life without even having to try. And I cry and I whoop and I dance and I feel a sense of relief, and I take part in a communal celebration that I always enjoy, in different sized parts each time, but always there.
The community isn’t there. It’s just me. Which is another bounce back and forth, another ping pong, as I’m craving alone time (having spent a month in the perpetual company of people almost 24/7) whilst keenly feeling the loss of that network, for better or for worse, that I realise, as I think about it, has been there for the last 5 or 6 years, no matter what my relationship to it has been. It’s been a constant.
How do I do this on my own? Should I make a fuss? Is it ok just to let it go by? More back and forth, as is my wont. I end up marking my Beltane/Samhuinn by finishing 3 weeks of work, talking to no-one, and buying a large, excellent, extravagantly priced and worth it ice-cream, and eating it sitting on the bench in the middle of a busy street in central Auckland. It’s served in a cup of dark chocolate covered in freeze-dried raspberries, and they make me think of summer.
Fuck belabouring it. I decide I’m going to spend a few moments acknowledging the change of seasons, and then I’m done. I’m knackered, I have to get home, I really want to veg, and if this year has taught me anything, it’s that I can, I have to, make this shit up as I go along. So, here we go. Bite of ice cream, thought about Beltane. Bite of ice cream, thought about gratitude. Bite of ice cream, reflect. Bite of ice cream, laugh that I’m not desperately sewing/stapling something right now. Bite of ice cream, ache for a second as a flash of post-rehearsals pints in The Regent occurs. Bite of ice cream, sit.
I don’t know what Beltane means to me anymore, not the way I used to. Being in another hemisphere, another time zone, another climate, another social group (none) gives me that knowledge. I don’t know what seasons changing means. Being in another….. A lot of the time I don’t really know what most things mean. A lot of the time I actively don’t think about how I don’t know what most…
So, now thinking about it, on my bench, with freeze dried raspberries, I know one thing, I realise. This time last year, it occurs to me, this day, my throat closed over and I stopped breathing. A panic attack crossed firmly over into the physical, and I still struggle to believe that, despite having been the person that clawed at the nurse’s arm as I lost the ability to take in any air, and saw her eyes switch over to alert, clinical. I missed Samhuinn that night, and the club. This time last year, I think, you wrote that thing, remember, you wrote “I don’t want to die. And that’s useful information.” From there to here, a year, and a difference. I no longer believe in linear movement in life, apart from time (and taxes), so I don’t think in terms of ‘better’ or ‘improvement’, because these things are not a constant, and never will be. I just look at it and see a difference. This time last year I, somewhat unexpectedly, fought not to die, and that was cool. This time this year, I’m still here, and that’s ok with me. Being ok with it is actually a fairly new thing, and it seems to be sticking around. I couldn’t have said that a while ago. I can live with that (no pun intended, really). It’s worth acknowledging. For now, that’ll do.
So. Last bite. Sour raspberry, dripping chocolate, licking a palm with the tip of my tongue, American accents of tourists poking in, the wind threatening to take my hat, the third napkin is used and crumpled, and I spy my bus home on the other side of the intersection. Happy Beltane/Samhuinn. This is how I did it.