Remembering Nana

Wind blown flowers litter the checker-board grave markers that climb heavily up the hillside, eventually courting the fence line and abruptly turning in to a field of golden gorse flowers that explode in rapture as they meet the sky. Wind turbines, looming and graceful, spinning endlessly amongst powdered clouds rushing overheard, pushed by a northerly eager to envelope the earth. Ragged hillsides stretch and bend over the horizon, corners falling off here and there, roots of trees clinging precariously to the dried out soil. A woman with a rag cloth lovingly wipes headstones, murmuring orthodox prayers and weeping for someone she once knew. Panagakos, Athanasiou, Stathopoulos, Gabris, Tavoularis - last names scratched in granite, claiming the heritage of the elders. Greece has taken over this small plot of land on the southern coast of Te Ika a Māui, a stamp-sized memory of those who sailed on this very wind.

Today I visited the Greek Orthodox section of Makara cemetery with a friend, in search of her parents graves. There is some kind of peace that hangs around cemeteries. A sadness and a loss, but also an affirmation that, despite the inevitability of life ending, there is a resilience within humanity. We remember the dead, we place flowers on graves, we trim the grass and pave the paths that lead to their final resting place. We continue to live on; in the memories of those who loved us, in the letters etched on our gravestone, in the grass that grows over us. And as we share memories of our loved ones with one another - this is where he worked, that is the house that we lived in, once when I was a child, he told me a secret... - we remember them a little clearer, a little brighter, with a little more warmth. We are but a monument, worn down by time, but we were once here.

It reminded me of my Nana, who has been gone for 4 years now. She was a bright, lively, loving, generous, sharp-tongued woman who could keep her huge family in line with one word. She constantly gave all she could to us, and she looked after us no matter what. When I visited her open casket, a scared 16 year old with a broken heart, I slipped a note in to her hand (I don't know if I was allowed to do that, but I did anyway). I guess a part of me wanted her to be sure of how I felt about her. And now, thinking back, the story reminds me of how powerful relationships are. Whanaungatanga. We yearn to spend all our days with those we love, and we mourn them when we can't. But when we dig a little deeper, we see that we don't need a note slipped in to a casket to remember - because there is something in all of us that connects us, a compassion, an empathy, that cannot be dulled as the years slip by.

I am worth more than the children I bear.

I wrote this poem about a year ago, then forgot about it until I stumbled upon it today. Women and (dis)empowerment is a topic particularly close to my heart. Interestingly enough, finding this poem again coincided with discovering a clip of this spoken word poem by Katie Makkai. Her words contain so much power.

     I am worth more than the children I bear;
     there is no weakness presupposing me
     no male superimposing
     is worth more 

     than the world would like to care.

     I am worth more than the length of my hair;
     more than the length of my dress
     or the cling of my shirt
     or the state of undress
     you imagine. 

     At the least,
     I am above
     being below.

     For she comes to life, lives in strife and bears the strikes
     only to fear her death, for who will remember?
     She was only a wife.
     The children we give life to?
     Tell them baby, you gotta fight right through
     to the end.

     And if I had a little girl,
     I’d tell her all about this world…
     This world that claims her worth
     as diamonds and pearls,
     yet smirks, lips curled
     in disdain.

     Oh, it sure ain’t fair!

     But I’d tell my baby not to fear
     her golden eyes will open wide,
     fingers stretched, arms alive.
     ‘Cause she’ll be worth
     more than the children
     she bears.