A tenderness in me reaches for the headland. The sea is indifferent

Laura Kennedy: In times of chaos or anxiety I have thought of the wildness and solitude of this place we entrusted with our mother’s ashes

Bere Island. This last year, I have returned here in my mind, to that sparkling day when the light melted into the water.

Bere Island. This last year, I have returned here in my mind, to that sparkling day when the light melted into the water.

 

The day is softly grey, slick and twitching like a seal’s flank in that horizontal mist that descends upon west Cork and feels characteristic of the area. Despite the feeling that the low sky is sinking toward our heads, Bere Island is dry. It has been granted a reprieve from the rain, though thick, greasy slate-coloured clouds are labouring their way in from the sea. We won’t have long here, but that’s as it should be. Though the wind bites, some sort of warmth seems to rise up and out from the sprawling, dappled rock like a comfort at its heart. I have stood on this headland many times before; most summers during my childhood, and then again in July of last year, on what would have been my mother’s 60th birthday, when we came to scatter her ashes into the hungry sea.

Everything is motion and noise, and I understand within my gut that more than a year has passed

The scrubby, springy sea grasses give way to the rocks, like the receding hairline of the world, and the water is angrier now than it was last summer when, in the July heat, soaked in the riotous colour and light of high summer, we parted ways with what remained of our mother on this Earth. I look now into the black water, opaque with secrets, suddenly conscious of the time that has passed since last I was here. The signs of it are hacked into the landscape but there is life everywhere. A parcel of cormorants bob together out on the fussy water, diving for food by turns. In the distance, a seal’s head scuds along, its damp nose tilted upward a little, its muscular length working invisibly beneath the surface of the water like it was built for the purpose. Insects mutter resentfully in the springy grass.

Great vacuum

Standing on the rocks by the spot where, last year, my brother and I entrusted our mother’s ashes to the breeze, which happily opened its arms to take her, I feel myself caught in a great vacuum. Everything is motion and noise, and I understand within my gut that more than a year has passed. The place of my memory – still calm and beautiful with the sibilance of the sea chanting the cadence of its own immortality – is changed already. I sink, momentarily expecting the rock to rise up to greet me, and the water to pull me in, but physically, I haven’t moved. Just now, the sea looks menacing, sucking and tugging frantically at the land in ceaseless and senseless craving; making demands of the world that cannot be met.

Today, we have returned here once more to reach for my mother, impossibly, insensibly

There is a tenderness within me that reaches for this headland sometimes, when I feel trapped in a city, choking on its gritty humours and tired of its heavy concrete vastness and cynicism. This last year, I have returned here in my mind, to that sparkling day when the light melted into the water. Often, in times of chaos or anxiety I have thought of the wildness and solitude of this place we entrusted with our mother’s ashes; a mysterious substance which, while not at all the person we lost, also somehow demands and deserves respect. Ashes simply cannot be put just anywhere, and yet my mother is not here where the land throws up its hands and relents to the sea.

Force of life

Today, we have returned here once more to reach for my mother, impossibly, insensibly – that is the only way we can reach for the dead. She is not here, but I am here thinking about her, and that is the best I will get today, or any day. Meanwhile, the force of life thunders around me. All of it – the water, the beginnings of the rain, the seaweed boiling and foaming resentfully against the rocks, the bristling, whispering grass – seem to be pushing against the moment. They worry at its edges, bursting through and preventing me from forming a delineated memory I might return to later. That’s alright. We are not really entitled to such moments to ourselves. The clumsy, barking seal does not memorialise this rock. It simply pushes forward into the next moment, like the sea. There is no time to stop. The world warns us to push forward or be pulled. The sea is not kind. The sea is indifferent.

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