A long time ago, nearly a quarter of a century, now, I visited Iceland, during the brief summer, a place and time where the sun never sets. The blurring of times of day created a strange effect, as if tightly scrolled emotions and thoughts were intensely opening out, prompted by the lengthening of the day and the radiant sun, filtered through the blinds specifically used at this time of year.
One such approximate afternoon, I fell half asleep and had a waking dream. I dreamed that a young woman found herself positioned on a rock at the top of a waterfall. The water was icy cold, its source being a melting glacier. And the young woman had to stand on the rock, and not move, keeping her balance, while the icy water flowed around her, and through her. She tested this, from time to time by moving a little, but the thundering force of the water made her realise her bones would break if she endured it too long, so she kept returning to the original position aligned on what seemed to be the prow of the rock.
As she stood, suspended, she slowly felt less pain. And she gradually turned blue: first pale blue, then aquamarine, then eventually a vivid and vibrant blue. And then I woke up. The waterfall, when I described this dream to my Icelandic friend, was Gullfoss, a landmark I had not yet visited, and the place in which the girl was standing was known in legends, according to my friend, as the abode of the gods.
Iceland is a vivid, still forming country, seething with energy. The extremes of its landscape soothed me, and indicated the wisdom of finding equilibrium and equanimity. It showed me that history is always in the making, both personally and politically. How much geography and geology and climate shape the everyday choices and challenges we make and face.
In the years since that dream, I’ve recalled it at different times and attempted to apply it to the shape of unfolding events in my life. Was I the girl that turned blue? If not, how could I hear and feel the huge torrent of icy water that poured over that edge? What was the icy torrent that the girl had to learn how to endure? What did it symbolize?
Now I’m in a different torrential time: in Sri Lanka, 7 degrees North of the Equator, having in the past 3 years undergone terror attacks, the pandemic and now undergoing a people’s Revolution. I live in the mountains, far from the strife of the city, and there are a lot of small waterfalls near my home.
The country is volatile and shifting under my feet: not geographically but socio-politically. So much unresolved pain, so much karmic stress, paper thin reconciliation over the wounds from a thirty-year civil war, from the demonic manipulations of successive generations of politicians, so much wasted plenty, so much beauty and grief, imperfectly blended and crudely infused.
I never thought I would make it this far, to be clear. So much has happened, like a torrent of loss and grief and shock, interspersed with stabs of joy and spaces of solace. How is it possible to make sense of these disparate and dissonant threads, woven into one cloth of personal history?
I remember seeing the girl in the dream, and wondering how she was able to keep her balance. I knew while watching the sequence that it was always her choice. And something about the water and the sky made me feel that she was connecting different elemental aspects together, through her conscious decision, made and remade anew, to stay standing on the rock: earth and water and air were aligned by her act of will. It was always her choice.
She was not a Disney heroine: her hair did not fly back behind her neatly like a banner. There was no young man to say ‘Close your eyes and trust me’, as Rose did in ‘Titanic’, as he put his arms round her waist and urged her to outstretch her arms, like a wing span, at the moment of sunset, short sweet hours before the iceberg hit the vessel in which they were journeying.
I came downstairs and told my friend my dream, and he said that the colour blue was the colour of divinity in Hindu and Catholic art: the flowing locks of Krishna, and the mantle of Our Lady, who took upon herself the mysteries of the world, and pondered them in her heart.
I think perhaps the message to me is that everything that I have felt to be unendurable at the time, specifically excruciating and about to overthrow and undo me, was something to which, looking back from my vantage point today, I have – over time – managed to adjust.
Even the day the tsunami hit, Boxing Day of 2004, my mother and I were visiting her old teachers for morning tea, with an iced coffee cake, and noticed that the tide had gone out very far, and there had been an earthquake in Indonesia. I remembered my Year 10 geography classes, and then how we had been warned how to evacuate when bush fires raged through Sydney, and said that we needed to get all the important documents and photos that could not be replaced, and leave for higher ground, now. Right now! It wasn’t easy to convince the old couple, and my mother said she couldn’t leave them. I told her: You are making the wrong choice. It was a high-water mark for us.
As it turned out, the salt water only came into their garden that day, and did not undermine and overthrow their little house. We got to higher ground.
The day the Easter Attacks hit, I hadn’t gone to Church, even though I’m a member of the Cathedral Choir. Because I was behind on some editing work I had promised to do. Deadlines have often kept me on track, although I scrape and protest ungratefully against them.
The young woman in my dream on the rock in the waterfall in Iceland tested the waters, and adjusted to the situation. She did not fly or run or melt away. And by staying, she transformed, and in a sense accessed something divine within her.
My friend gave me several books on Iceland, and although I never learned the language and could not read the sagas in the original runes, I could read the story told by the illustrations. He gave me my rune, Wunjo, the blossom bearing branch, as a pendant or a key ring made from pewter. And he gave me the English translation of the best known Icelandic novel: ‘Independent People’.
The word ‘Independent’ in Icelandic means ‘Standing upright, unassisted, unsupported, in one’s own strength’. It means sovereignty.
And in the first few pages of the book, a phrase shone out at me, splendid with specific meaning: ‘The sun today is stronger than history’.