With half an hour left to go until the end of the year, I asked myself how I would spend it. I decided to meditate. I turned off the lights, closed the curtains, and sat on the floor with my legs crossed and my back against the side of my bed. I found my composure after a few deep breaths, and closed my eyes as I brought Sarah’s name into my mind. I watched it float around in there, like a bubble bouncing gently off a wall. I repeated her name, and let it find its way around the rest of my body.
Midnight was approaching. I wanted to traverse into the New Year with music, with Sarah. I opened my eyes, turned on my bedside lamp, and picked up Sarah’s funeral programme from its place on top of my right loudspeaker, where it has rested for the whole of this year. .
I sat on my bed with the programme on my lap. I hadn’t opened it in one whole year. I’d kept it nearby so I could see the photograph of her face each day. Reading her name and the dates of her birth and death was also an infrequent ritual, and sometimes I’d pick it up and smile and witter on at her. I hadn’t intended to never open the booklet, it just became that way.
I went through the pages, reading closely. I was back in the church at the funeral. My view from the third or fourth pew reconstructed itself as Sarah’s friends and family who recited came back to mind.
I arrived at the piece I read from the First Letter of St John (3:12):
Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us,
by letting us be called God’s children: and that is what we are.
Because the world refused to acknowledge him,
therefore it does not acknowledge us.
My dear people we are already the children of God,
but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed;
all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him
because we shall see him as he really is.
It took me back to how I watched Sarah’s coffin arrive at the church, and later stood beside it while I read to the rest of the congregation.
I continued through the programme to Farewell My Friends, by Rabindranath Tagore:
Farewell My Friends
It was beautiful
As long as it lasted
The journey of my life.
I have no regrets
The pain I’ll leave behind.
Those dear hearts
Who love and care…
And the strings pulling
At the heart and soul…
The strong arms
That held me up
When my own strength
Let me down.
At the turning of my life
I came across
Friends who stood by me
Even when time raced me by.
Farewell, farewell My friends
I smile and
Bid you goodbye.
No, shed no tears
For I need them not
All I need is your smile.
If you feel sad
Do think of me
For that’s what I’ll like
When you live in the hearts
Of those you love
You never die.
I was reminded of Tony’s funeral (Sarah’s father) where I read that very same piece, against tears which I could not fight, about ten years ago.
It was starting to occur to me which song would play the year out as I read the last few lines. I thought of the transition three-quarters in which would synchronise beautifully with the tick of the changing year. I was tingling. The idea arose from within me like shimmering light from a phosphorescent ocean, and I could almost feel its colours on my face. I cued up Trans Fatty Acid by Lamb (Kruder and Dorfmeister Sessions Remix) on my phone, slotted in the earphones, and turned off the lamp.
There was about four minutes of the year left. I pressed play.
‘No one said it would be easy
Did anyone tell you the road would be straight and long?
Relax your mind and give it all to me
‘Cause you know and I know our love is strong enough’
I lay on my bed, and let that laidback whiskey intro flow around me. The meaning in those lyrics felt so transmitted, so succinct, and had expanded since I last listened. This really had become Sarah’s song. She’d become the whole performance; the singer, the instruments, the musicians, the acoustics, the entire auditorium. In my mind, the song was a complete embodiment of the entire time I’d spent with her.
I looked out of the window, and could see the skies starting to flash, my room flickering as hazy smoke began to rise from behind the neighbours’ trees and houses. Layered over the track, but blocked by the earphones, I could hear the dulled-down popping and crackling of New Year’s fireworks.
As the song found its groove, it swept me back through the past year. I saw myself, so determined to make the Sarah Project work, how every morning I had woken up to make sure I’d maximise the day, to have something I could write to Sarah about. Excited when I received an impulse to go somewhere, or do something, and anxious if those impulses weren’t coming. Walking to the bus stops, waiting at railway platforms, ambling around the city and country to drink a coffee and write my notes.
‘To weather the rain
To weather the snow
To weather the storm’
I got up from my bed, and flung the window open. The full sense experience was needed to consolidate this moment. The fresh, cold air rushed over my face and surged into my lungs. As the fireworks fizzed and sparked from one end of the the sky to the other, I knew I had begun to tremble. Within, an arising of an ineffable joy, bringing with it aches to my eyes, pursing my lips inwards so I could bite them. The mounting energy jammed in my throat, and my eyes burned until I finally let go.
With the instrumental section of the track drifting between my ears, I felt like I’d given everything I could. All the year’s writing, wanting, walking had amounted to this – I just wanted to see Sarah. And so I turned to my right, and through floods of euphoric tears, themselves a precise balance of happy and sad, with the night sky lighting up in front of us through the window, she was right there, standing next to me, smiling back.
‘Often I see fear in your eyes
And sometimes I know your heart is full of little arrows
But trust in me and no one can do you wrong
‘Cause I know and you know our love is strong enough
To weather the rain
To weather the snow
To weather the storm…’
I cried along with the song, aware that it was imminently about to end. I was immersed in a feeling so rapturous it’s nearly too hard to put into words. It was like looking through a toy telescope, but then seeing the enormity of the spectrum of sentience, the hidden media through which it travels, the multitudes of languages that it speaks, and the constant endeavours of humankind to translate their experience.
I was gasping between sobs. I felt like I’d experienced something so vast, and that only I had been through it. Nowhere else in the universe would there ever be this vantage point again, not even for me.
The singer had since stopped singing. Amid the fountains, crosettes and horsetail shells, the drums were starting to leave, with the light clops of the congas and phasered liquid-licked organs tailing behind. Then, that final applause. And in my imagination, it was for Sarah, as she exited backstage, the mic left in its stand.
It was five minutes past midnight, January 1st 2019. I took out my earphones. There was still an after-party in the sky to watch and listen to. I revelled in the majesty of the universe, tears streaming down my cheeks, and when my eyes ran dry, I pulled the window in slowly, listening to how the frequencies rolled off, the audio separating from the visuals, and as the window tightened in its frame, the world I’d just experienced faded out.
That was my New Years Eve.
In a minute, I will go over to the funeral programme, and I will take it from its proud place on my speaker. It will go into a special bag that Sarah gave me for my birthday, the last present she ever bought me. She bought it from a Moroccan man, from his stall on St. Albans market, in 2010. I’d always needed a man-bag, she said. I never really realised it, and even felt a bit awkward suddenly being the kind of guy who had a ‘man-bag’. It took a few wears to accustom to, but eventually it became inseparable from me. Even after Sarah and I had separated ourselves.
The bag, a superbly designed, masterfully engineered, hand-made satchel constructed from camel leather, had only been retired from service since the middle of last year. I’ve overstuffed it one too many times, thus causing a break around the strap where it’s joined to the bag by a ring. It could be repaired, yes. On the other hand, it could perhaps need its well-deserved rest. It’s been around the world; Andalucia in Spain, New York and Vermont in the U.S.A, Montreal in Canada, Eger and Budapest in Hungary, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness in Scotland, nearly every beach in Mauritius and almost every street in London, St.Albans, and Watford in England…to name but a few. And usually carrying nothing more than my wallet, my phone, my keys, my pen, and my Moleskine notepad. Its space was its strength: you never knew what you might end up filling it with. But the real reason for it was the reassurance. How it completed my posture, and regulated my gait. It gave my hands something to hold if they were nervous. It connected a circuit in my mind: with this on my shoulder, I can go anywhere.
I’ve been taking a part of Sarah everywhere with me, and I never realised it.
And so, it would seem just, that as I draw the Sarah Project to its close, that the manifestation of her lasting spirit – this humble satchel – would now be the home for not just her funeral programme, but every last piece of tangible memory that I have of her. But those old memories will not just be moving from one place to another – all throughout the year of the Sarah Project, I have kept souvenirs of the journey: train tickets, bus tickets, theatre tickets, cinema tickets: business cards for art shops, record shops, music shops, restaurants, coffee shops, a fishmonger, an Asian supermarket, a newspaper editor, a bar owner, a coffee machine seller, a board game cafe, a tech company CEO, an independent homeware shop, a film director, an artist, ID passes for Warner Brothers Studios, a London cycle receipt, a bottle top from an Ethiopian beer, a scribbled phone number, a leaflet for the Samaritans, a bookmark, a postcard, a drawing, a film script. All of these will rest with the photos and letters and mementos of love left to me from Sarah while she was still alive. The new stuff in the front pocket, the old in the main compartment, and the first photo taken of us together in the secret pocket. The bag will be the fullest it has ever been, and will protect our memories, keeping it the safest it can be.
All I can say now, is thank you Sarah.
Every word, every endeavour, every result on this blog I dedicate to you. Whatever you can find here that I have created or expressed, it was with your help. There remains an unbreakable thread, caught after it had been swaying, through which your energy has continued to transmit, which I grasped and held as I refueled my own spirit with your vitality, connecting you to me, me to you, and us to everything else in the known Universe.
I will miss you, Sarah. I will always remember you.
Until we meet again,
With love, always
For Sarah Jane Pendlebury, my first love and partner in life from 2000 – 2011, born 23rd September 1981, and died 14th December 2017.
The Sarah Project, January 1st 2018 – January 1st 2019.