My Friend, The Saint

The small grove lay shrouded in mist. Clouds of memories swirled and danced as the occasional ray of sun flashed from the ground. Jorge-dog suddenly stopped, sat, then lay down. He had been running ahead, nose down and tail up as he chased shadows, until he’d reached an invisible outer ring. Fear or respect, it wasn’t clear but he flatly refused to come any closer, so I continued on through the long grass alone.

The mandala was still there. It hadn’t changed in the twenty years since it was first laid, but it had taken some effort to find. Well protected by towering gums and tucked in behind the mudbrick church, I had to ask directions, and the small house adjacent had seemed an obvious place to start.

‘Hi, I’m looking for a medicine wheel that was created here many years ago. I’m wondering if you can point me in the right direction?’ I’d asked the wizened woman who answered the door. Without speaking she motioned for me to wait while she stepped back inside, into some well-worn leather sandals. Again, without speaking she led me around a corner to the back and simply pointed.

‘We still miss her,’ was all she said.

So there I was, bush-bashing my way through, sometimes, waist-high grass, criss-crossing the area until finally, there it was. A circle of stones in a very overgrown space. A small, flattened Stonehenge. Suddenly another flash of pink light drew me in. That’s right, I remembered, this was the first one we laid. A dinner plate sized chunk of rose quartz was the first piece to have been put in place. It marked the eastern point of the circle, the one which represented vision and hope. Grasses obscured the stones to the left so I knelt and pulled them back. There it was – a pathway of smaller semi-precious stones forming an entire medicine wheel. I kept weeding. Jorge-dog lay patiently, not moving, but watching intently.

Gradually the wheel revealed itself. A large chunk of amethyst lay embedded at the south point, white quartz for the north and garnet at the western point. In between hundreds, if not thousands of small crystals created the path. As I worked, the memories flooded back.

I’d met Cheryl when we had trained as psychologists together. She had shared enough for us to know she’d had a traumatic childhood, but not the details. She had suffered terribly with asthma and was hospitalised – usually when anything stressful was being discussed. She was not cut out to be a psychologist.

Two years after we completed our training she announced she was joining a new church. Overnight she transformed from the sickly friend who was forever collapsing and scaring the pants off all of us as we’d hold her under a shower to force her to breathe again, to a radiant, healthy, beautiful woman who literally glowed with an inner light.

We didn’t see her as much anymore, but when we did, she was incredibly happy and that glow seemed to get stronger each time.

A phonecall surprised me one evening two years later. ‘I’m getting married. I want you to come. Can you round the others up and bring them too.’

‘Sure, no worries. Who are you marrying?’

‘Greg.’

‘You mean Greg who I used to teach with. You’d said you had gone out with him a few times but I didn’t realise you were that serious.’

‘We actually married last year. In my church you have an initial church blessing then live together for twelve months before being allowed to have a ceremony. So this is the ceremony and I really want you all there. Everyone needs to wear white.’

It was beautiful. I’d not been inside the church until then, but it was decked out in flowers and food. There were no pews but lounge chairs and cushions. Older members were carefully seated and waited on by younger members. It was nothing like the church of my youth.

When Cheryl arrived, she lit up the room. Her beauty and inner glow seemed to engulf the entire building. She floated towards the magnificent altar and the woman who was to perform the ceremony began to speak. Much of what she said is now a blur, but there was one phrase that still resonates as clearly now as it did then.

‘White Tara Rose is the anointed leader of our church. Its future lies within her and her children.’

My friend Cheryl had become White Tara Rose and was now the head of a church. Pretty mind-blowing stuff. She was happy. Her spirituality and her joy were infectious, until that final night exactly a year later. She had been out for the day, and for the first time in years she was completely alone with Greg in the house they shared with several others. She began a massive asthma attack, so severe he could not reach the phone to call an ambulance. She choked to death in his arms. There was nothing he could do but hold her close. It was so horrific he still can’t talk about it.

It was not until her funeral two weeks later, when again we all gathered together to celebrate her life, that we discovered she had been proclaimed a saint in her church. Saint Tara Rose of the Church of the Blessed Heart, though I couldn’t help but grin at the thought of Saint Cheryl of Daylesford. The medicine wheel was formed in her memory, and over her body, on the day of the funeral, each of us taking turns to embed stones, plants and memories to be held there, the ones I was uncovering today.

My reverie suddenly disturbed, I saw that the old woman who had answered the door was standing beside Jorge. As I walked towards her, she simply said, ‘Thank you. It’s hard to keep up with the weeding now.’

I wasn’t sure whether she was referring to the plants or the memories.

 

(C) Julie Boyd

February 2012