I just sat outside in the African sun, beneath the shade of a Flamboyant Tree, watching the birds and the rainbow iguanas and coloured-up insects and raised a glass (well, it is New year’s Eve and we are 2 hours ahead) to one of the above. We collided at the coffee station one morning a month ago at five am. She had long white hair and I am shaved at the best of times; she had freckles, delightfully spattered whereas mine are more like blobs with no pattern. She had a job to do that morning. She was off on a game drive with her camera, along with others way younger than she. In fact, she and I were the grandmas of the troupe.
We went outside together to sit and drink our coffees beneath, this time, a fig tree that was full of monkeys. I should have clocked the message right off. As the young and fearless ones, scooted along the skinniest of branches to get the best fruits, the mothers, with another young attached beneath her belly, holding on with every available limb, modestly attended the easier branches. The male, until now absent, and who has luminous evidence of his masculinity, suddenly arrived sending the whole lot into disarray in a dive for safety. This dive sent a rainstorm of tiny figs into our cups, onto our heads and all about us, like laughter. I’m not sure what he gained by being such an autocrat, but that’s not the point. My new friend snapped away with her big lens whilst I covered my head. She had a job to do.
Today she left, but not without being completely changed. Africa changes everyone and particularly here as a valuable team member of a conservation project. But she has found a new passion. My age, and the other side of a lifetime, she is a child again. Her excitement about pretty much everything was intoxicating to all, the guides, the project leaders, the volunteers………and me. She sees nothing now of what was, but only what is. And what is, is infinite. Not only that, it’s possible. I haven’t thought that way for ages, but now, thanks to her, I can see what she already knows.
For all her time here, she was Grandma to all. I caught her, nestled in among the eversoyoung many times, from five am to last call, listening, making them laugh and reassuring them and it made my heart smile. Oh…..I wanted to tell them…….you have no idea who is with you right now! This ‘old’ woman has changed her direction entirely. She has enough sense of self, beyond the domestic, beyond the old age wither-ness, beyond, well, the stars. She, my friends, is beginning all over again, and all by herself, alone.
An extraordinary woman. I miss her already, her wisdom, her crinkly face laugh, her inspirational energy and sense of fun, with no infuriating teaching that can come with ‘old’ age. I never saw it, not once. But she who could so easily crumble and fade, will have none of it. Barefoot and snapping at monkeys with her big lens, entranced, focusing in, watching, learning every moment of every day……….well, she has taught me. I watched her for a month, but she will stay close to my heart for ever.
We are all extraordinary women, if we so choose. I salute all my sisters.
Happy New Beginnings to you all.