BENEATH THE OLIVE TREE

EXTRACT


FOREWORD

By Melanie Maxwell


Taken from her personal journals and reproduced by the kind permission of her children, Bobby, Guy and Yasmina (Susan)



“Andy is sleeping. Youth would see him as an aged and fading man yet, to my eyes, he is as beautiful, as striking, as the day I met him – although, each time from the first time we made such lovely love, that this continues to flower surprises me, as how can perfection become more than perfection? Youth would also have blinkered vision for that, too – as it so wishes to claim the province of physical intimacy for itself. Well, Youth, we must agree to disagree on that one, but I’m sure we can agree on one thing: whether young or old, the mystery of a man’s fast failing of consciousness and the energising of a woman after sex remains constant…


Sometimes, like now, I wonder about the years of hate that kept me from knowing Andy as his wife, his friend and lover. However, that isn’t something worth dwelling on. There were no ‘missed years’ between us. There wasn’t even a ‘missed moment’, when I could have been open to loving him. There was only the hate. Until the healing. And Andy was there, as he’d been for so long… And then the love came…


I’m always fussed and feted – Oooh! Melanie, aren’t you wonderful! It’s such gushing, sycophantic nonsense. I’m not wonderful; I’m nothing special; what I do is. Andy is. Yes, the healing came – but all that I know and understand of love has been learned from a man far more extraordinary than I could ever be… Without him to light my path, guide and inspire me as a woman? None of ‘all this’ would have come to pass.


I met a woman this evening that recognised this. She was a stranger, but that’s not unusual. Andy and I rarely socialise here and, in speaking with her, I gather she and her husband are the same. What attracted me to her was that she didn’t keep looking at me, staring at me. People don’t seem to realise how very uncomfortable it is to be treated like a goldfish in a bowl. It’s acceptable when I’m working, or can be ignored when out and about, but when one is supposed to be relaxing and enjoying oneself…? Sometimes it gets too much.


She knew who I was. That was clear from when she introduced herself when I went and sat next to her, where she had isolated herself from the main gathering. But she said nothing. Instead, she started talking about something very close to my heart – the terrible plague of lily bugs this year. Our conversation continued in a very casual and desultory manner until she said something that took me aback. For seemingly no reason, she said, ‘Andrew, not ‘peace’, is your life, isn’t he…’ A statement, not a question, and it’s true. Absolutely true. Yet not even our closest friends seem to be aware of that. How did she know? She told me it showed in my face when I said his name, in how I said his name…


Then she asked me if I believed in ‘angels’, although offered no indication of where that question came from, or any opinion of her own. She seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say which, of course, began with my usual ‘No, I don’t…’ Except… I realized that isn’t quite true… I don’t see Andy as an ‘angel’ in any way, and, of course, there isn’t any place in my atheism for God’s hierarchy, while none has come to sit on my bed to have a chat to change my mind… But I found myself with a sudden and odd perception: I have walked many years with an angel of my own. Me. Not ‘me’ the woman, but ‘me’ from when I was a child.


When I became free of all the pain and confusion that had come so close, so very close, to destroying me, it’s as though that long-gone child put her hand in mine and led me to see sorrow anew. I could see more clearly, as though from afar – which I was, I suppose. I’d somehow become ‘detached’ from suffering my suffering, so could see that of others, of how their pain is caused and how important it is that there is someone who cares enough to call attention to those causes.


If, above my non-belief, God and His angels do exist and one is sent to carry me ‘home’, I do hope he doesn’t send an all-singing, all-flying, trumpeting one for me. I’d like it to be the little girl who has shown me so much, given me so much… There’s something about her sad and solemn ways that I trust. Not, I add, that I’m planning on dying soon – and I hope nothing happens to Andy, either. I couldn’t live without him. Wouldn’t want to live without him. And he the same with me…


Anyway, this woman – I forget her name, at the moment – then asked another question. It was unexpected, as she’d not mentioned her occupation, but which certainly has me now thinking. She offered – I didn’t ask – if I would like time to think about my answer. It was certainly a very, shall I say, novel idea: she asked if she could use me, stories from my childhood and life’s work, in a book of fiction, not as a subject for a biography. To begin with, there was a great deal of hesitancy, as some things should, surely, remain personal and private. Now, here in the security of my home, soft and relaxed from the lovemaking with my wonderful Andy, I find myself changing my mind. We learn – or should learn - from each other. Perhaps, should others learn of my life, of the pain and its consequences, of how that was turned around and became love, they can find release from theirs. And released, perhaps they, too, can take hands with their own angel…


Why not? She gave me her card. I will call her tomorrow to give her my blessing. I’ve given half my life to working for peace… Let others know both halves as a whole. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who said ‘no greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his friends…’?


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