There is a famous saying that ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear’. I think of this saying often and particularly when I think of my dear friend Mary, who recently left this earth to embark on her next journey.
Mary meant a lot to many. For me she was a guide, a mentor and a good friend, but like so many of my good friends our friendship started slowly and in some ways quite unpredictably.
I first knew of Mary rather than actually knew her. She would often glide into our shared workplace, her floating garments almost trailing behind and there being a rather Zen aura around her. She was a little bit of a mystery to me, seeming to appear in some sort of blue cloud, drifting above the sometimes humdrum nature of my work.
Years later, I met Mary ‘over’ the phone. I was working on an oil and gas contract in Kazakhstan and through a mutual friend, Mary expressed interest in working in the same location. We got to know each other through rather disjointed phone calls between her North London home and my rather basic wooden telephone booth, weighing up the pros and cons of a contract: she decided not to apply! On my return to the UK, I remember finally meeting the person who I now had got to know through, what Mary comically referred to, as ‘telephonic communion’. We met, we chatted, we got on, but we didn’t really keep in contact.
Not long after, my life took an unexpected turn and Mary entered my life again. A mutual friend felt that Mary would help due to our shared experience and so she put us back in touch. It was at this stage in my life that Mary became the friend that was to guide me through the next twenty years of my life. It was true to say at this pivotal point in my life that Mary knew me very little, yet, as was the case with Mary, that seemed not to bother her in the slightest. She thought nothing of giving up extensive amounts of her time, guiding me in the right direction, often dispensing her own brand of gentle advice. There were many walks on Hampstead Heath, many stop-offs in cafes and much debate. Most importantly she never gave up listening.
As the years passed she was a constant presence, always the extensive and generous giver. Small material gifts began to appear: a stone with healing properties, a lapis lazuli tortoise to encourage me that life was long, and of course endless ….and I mean…endless scarves. Over the years gifts changed. On one occasion she turned up our favourite arty cinema café with a huge painting that she thought was just my taste. As was often the case, she suggested that I take it home with me to see if I liked it and if it fitted my surroundings. I knew that to be the point of no return and despite it being my style, with a pang of guilt, I politely declined. My excuse of decluttering did little to dim the image in my mind of this small and endlessly generous woman grappling with this large painting on the W5 bus! Particularly as she was accustomed to travel with her trusted rucksack and so many bags!
For Mary, there were many passions, but two seemed the most important: education and speaking up, whether for yourself or for others. These passions had been formed in her early years, and for as long as I had known Mary, her quest for education never stopped. From literature to theatre, from languages to Buddhism, the search never appeared to cease. And if there was a hint of it waning in herself, this did not discourage her from persuading others. She dropped nuggets of advice to everyone and anyone if you were listening carefully enough.
It was only when Mary passed that parts of her life became known to me. An open, generous and caring woman who like us all had parts of her life that she wanted to keep private. How typical of Mary, that she would keep so many things to herself, but very much in keeping with the woman who always wanted to hear about others before she talked about herself.
As we cope with the loss, Mary’s presence lives on in those who loved her and those who she supported in the kindest and gentlest of ways. Her advice to anyone was to be informed, educate yourself, and when things are wrong, do not be afraid to speak up. With these words in mind, Mary embodies all that we hope to be and I hope that Striped Sisters is something she would be proud of.
‘Raise your words not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.’ Rumi