'Sister, how long have you known?'
My devastated whispers echoed through the dark cavern. It responded with dripped echoes. I imagined that the faint breeze kissing my face was a collective of kisses from all women past and future. A gentle honouring, a please forgive us.
'Did you know what you were doing? That you were complicit in this destruction?'
I sat heavily, the rock's damp seeping into my pants, making me cold from the bottom up. I no longer cared. I want4ed to know why so much was hidden. How much of our lives is shooshed up, locked inside impenetrable containers? How much of the important Knowing isn't taken from us but never given to start with? How many of our important songs have been squashed into silence through the imposition of what is mannerly, or seemly, or just downright unspoken?
It wasn't until I birthed my own child that I began to see how life had been redacted: All those places in which women in my life had retained their silence, had never spoken.
I recalled an abortion, undertaken whilst feeling that my life could not support that child. A destiny of hers and mine, but mostly hers. I remembered how I talked, and only then did others talk. I learned that that my sister by law, my best friends, had all had one or maybe more. Why had they not spoken?
I recalled that closest of friends whose beloved was stillborn, whose life was torn apart, whose very sanity ran to the edge of the ultimate darkness. Of how she never spoke. Of how we didn't know how to support her.
I recalled the horror stories offered before birth, but the heartrending beauty and songs told after.
And I wondered whose reality created this searing, lonely isolation from my sisters.
So I came here, to the darkened caverns of time, seeking answers.
I hadn't expected such quietude. Such peace. Is the facing-out of our lives the only capacity we have in which to present a story, to talk about lives unlived but wished? Idly, I palmed a gentle stone, rounded into satin by the wilds of time and water. Its eddies flowing through this very place when rains and storms visit the quiet land. The ever-present dripping a reminder of the grief and loss of many. Its silence not hesitating, but holding; apt, for to feel cosseted in this womb was the ultimate comfort.
In this place I sat and asked. Still the water dripped and the breezes kissed my face.
Breathing myself out of angst and into receptivity, my eyes blurred. I wondered whether what I was seeing was what I saw, or whether I merely saw the inside of my face. When my cheek was caressed by a hidden hand, I leaned. When arms wrapped themselves around me, I sighed and wept.
'Why did you leave me to discover all of this alone?' I demanded. 'Why is our story so rich and heartbreaking, so silent, so filled with beauty that merely to feel it causes worlds to resonate and collide?'
A wizened woman emerged from the darkness, stood in front of me with her hands clasped. Her skirts swept the ground, battered and browned and pocked with silvery greys. Her robes fell from strong shoulders and her grey hair sparkled in the soft light that filled the cavern. Her face was an aged oval, far from decrepit but filled with wisdom. Her hands held the knowing of aeons. She didn't speak. She watched me, listened to me. Smiled.
'Darling child,' she murmured. 'You followed the story and believed the construct. You would never have believed us.'
Her truth hit me. Eyes cast towards her feet, I shook my head. 'So why didn't you try harder?'
'Because it's not the way.' The woman swept her arm outwards, bringing into our conversation all of the critters animate and inanimate in this space. She brought her hand back to her heart. 'You have to listen. Here. And when you do,' she knelt and blew a kiss towards me. The kiss struck me in the chest, filling me with an ecstatic, loving joy, so intense that language cannot conceive of its immensity. It connected us, heartwise, and I saw. I felt the feelings of uncountable women. I understood the artistry of creatures like me through this and all other realms. I knew.
She stood. 'You had simply forgotten.'
Later, hours later, the calls of a tawny frogmouth brought me back to myself. It seemed to sing of the loneliness of this path, which is trod by the awakening woman. I felt different. I knew the names of every tree, of every rock, of every apparently insignificant plant. They spoke with me as I left the cave and padded my way through the damp earth back to the car.
The sisterhood knows, is not silent.
Her voice is not our voice, though she tells our stories. Her ears are not in her head, though she listens closely. Her stories are not just of humans but of all critters in all time, of this land in her completeness. The magic of creation to death that occurs in every moment, from butterfly to leaf. It's in the soil on which we walk, that supports us, that is in our very DNA.
I understood that I had heard her. That I did Know. That I had learned the universal truths. Now I knew that my expectation was of speech and song, of history and lessons. Of a material education that Man had devised in order to enslave us. So how could it ever set us free?
Making my way through the turnstile, pulling out the jangling keychain whose clanking jarred in the stillness of the evening, I unlocked the car. Its yellow lights flashed twice, the console light beamed out lighting up the scrub around me. I paid attention and noticed the separation; turned, wanted so much to stay here in this sacred place. This place that knew me, that understood. I hesitated to leave, feeling an immediate panick that climbing into that noisy plastic-and-steel contraption, the one that blared light into the world, would disconnect me from all that I had found.
As the thought hit me, a smile wiped itself across my face. A reminder of who I was when I'd arrived.
There is no disconnect.
There is no isolation.
We just have to re-learn how to listen.