I talk to my beloved friend yesterday. He is 79 coming to 80. When he opens his mouth to speak, the words sound as if they come from middle-earth. From that ancient place inside mountains who have been around long enough to say something.
Set as I was, without a cent in a desert of destruction, this is the one who sent me on a path to the traditional healer, offering to pay as he sensed the primal eruption of the collapse at hand. How did he know, I sometimes wonder. That crack of an opening he could see that I could not, was a minuscule portal into other worlds, a whole new life. Blindly, I lurched and stumbled into other ways of knowing that I never in a billion years could have imagined for myself.
He snorts a bit now. He is sceptical of this word ‘curate’. I’m trying it out, for fit and size. (Having recently held a retreat, my first ever, I am wondering how it seemed to work in such extraordinary ways.) Was it the curation? He thinks the word is contrived, I can hear it irritates him and I have to say I know what he means. It’s the latest word, he says, disparagingly. ’Til the next one comes along.
I search for the etymology. Ha! It comes from the medieval Latin curatus, from Latin cura, meaning ‘care’. I love that. How to participate in creating an experience in care, where every single facet matters and is in relationship with all there is. I call him straight back to argue it out. We revel in the kinds of conversations that use few words and take a long time.
Thing is, I’m always uncomfortable with that word. Curate. I’m not quite sure why. From the framework of most, there is a glimpse of an underlying assumption that it is an individualistic role, with outcomes attached, and a performance, or exhibit, that can be managed and controlled. Where the genius lies solely within the individual. Brian Eno long ago removed the word ‘genius’ and replaced it with ‘scenius’ - making it communal. But even that still seems human-centred.
So I sit in this word, ‘curate’ and I try to pay attention to all that comes for the next 24 hours. Just to see.
The 24 hours somehow starts with a celebration - eating the best food ever made on this planet, for sure. One of those magical sunsets, moon rise, and a legendary chef for whom apparently a pet pig deigns to sit, stand and stay. The restaurant is up in the foothills of a mountain so high it can see Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head in the far distance. It’s just simply good food. Creative, humorous, artistic and a maitre’ d who silently, invisibly works as physically hard as the all the staff. Watchful, caring - he sees a need before we even know it’s there. He remembers us from last year, the year before and the year before that too.
I wake at 4 this morning, thinking about that food. Unpretentious, beautiful and somehow filled with surprise. By 6 I’m on the beach, before the wind comes up. The long beach has just enough walkers to let me feel safe. I love this place. Louise and I walked it on our lighthouse-to-lighthouse pilgrimage. A little further on is where we were arrested for walking past Denel, the arms company. She feels close to me this morning, her lightness in my step.
And then, two African Black Oystercatchers arrive - jet black, red beaks and red legs. Funny, just the same birds as seemed to follow us on our pilgrimage. They’re silhouetted on the sandy, white beach. Mating for life, eggs incubated and young fed by both parents, what kind of care exists between this couple, on this beach? Is care just an overused, anthropocentric word, or might it include two birds who bring up family after family, year in and year out over nearly four decades? Would their lives, paying attention to seasons, winds, storms, territory, feeding, young and flying count as ‘curating’?
To me, yes. The deepest ‘care’ interpretation - but how to communicate things this delicate, this beautiful and yet this ordinary?
I look up and see something I’ve only ever seen at Lake Nakuru in the Rift Valley, Kenya. A flock of flamingos flying overhead. (I check later. It’s not a ‘flock’, it’s a ‘flamboyance’.) I’m mesmerised, there are at least 30. With grace and ease that have no words, they circle above me and then head east. They are communal birds, with that wonderful collective noun describing often huge colonies of thousands. After ritual displaying, the adults all mate at similar times, and the chicks are then born together. Said to be monogamous, both adults incubate the single egg, both adults feed the chick. After about seven days, the young sally forth and start gathering in a kind of flamingo-creche.
If this isn’t a loud example of communal curating, and even ‘scenius’ - bafflingly beautiful and complex deep care within a collective then I’m not sure what is. My rational doubt tries to creep in, but seems not to stay. What does pop up is a small rebuke: is there room though for distinct contributions in a collective curation? How do individuals shine?
Then, astonishingly, ahead of me there’s a beautiful dance going on in the shallow waves. As I get closer I see it is a woman, with pink leggings peeking out of her burqa. She is dancing, and I see just her eyes sparkling at me as I pass. There’s an exquisite softness in her movement, an anonymity that allows her complete freedom. An individual, dancing with the sea. Perhaps as we make our individual contributions, they may be better received if they are offered without grandiosity, a little bit hidden, a little quieter, sometimes under wraps. Unfashionable, I know.
Suddenly, the pattern clicks. The restaurant, amazing food, service of the maitre d’, oystercatchers, flamingos, sole dancer, sea and sky all form a mixed brew of answers in an intricate web. Delicate care, sometimes tender and often nearly invisible, manifests in each of the tiny and seemingly fragmented vignettes. Perhaps it’s simply my complete immersion in these moments that allows a discernment and interpretation that momentarily brings a flash of enlightenment, and sheer joy.
Perhaps it’s not the word that matters, but it’s a way of being that opens to all there is. Unpredictable, a little mysterious, the same constellation never to be repeated. One may not easily incorporate the food, oystercatchers, flamingos and dancer in the waves into a conventional approach to the word ‘curate’. ‘Curation’ carries the sense of being able to orchestrate. That might be useful sometimes.
But not when I’m re-souling, and not when I am re-wilding. Not when I have no idea who I am. That’s when the artistry of an open heart, open to all there is, must resist with all its might the temptation to organise, control, manage, coach and present as if it knows what’s going on.
Observing in this way, almost within my body, seems to lure me lightly into a poetics of being. Our souls include every facet of all there is. It is so easy. There’s nothing particularly right about it. It simply feels full, different, and as if there is infinite space in which to breathe.
The traditional healer says the word might be ‘weave’. Maybe that’s closer … because it seems rooted in presence, in a particular moment. In not knowing and uncertainty. In excruciating vulnerability, and being porous to all that comes - simply never knowing what might pitch up to be woven.