(Continued from page 11.)
But soon some of the hostility she had sensed in the US re-emerged. On 23 September, 1984, she complains that she can’t find kindred spirits in the English Catholic Church, writing: “People are so desperately political. I am sick and tired of all the propaganda we have everywhere. It’s unbearable any more to hear some pretty ignorant characters kicking my country of birth, which remains one of the greatest cultures, especially spiritually.”
This was a precursor to her well-publicised return with Olga, late in 1984, to what was still the Soviet Union, albeit in the process of perestroika. She made some public statements there, decrying the West and reclaiming her Russian citizenship, but the journey was not a success and by 1986 she was back in America. Her attempts to build bridges with her two older children had failed. She settled in rural Wisconsin but was restless as her one remaining child flew the nest.
By 3 March, 1990, she is back in London, camping at her daughter’s flat and distraught. “I feel like a rabbit, chased into some labyrinth.” She has no money. On 1 July 1990, she reports that she has moved into sheltered housing next to Westminster Cathedral, provided by the Carr-Gomm Society, and writes: “I only hope there will be no animosity against me. It seems that recently I just can’t show my face anywhere (publishers too) without making people cringe … as soon as they know who I am.” On 6 April, 1991, she writes that she had again been looking for a convent to take her. She had spent some happy weeks at St Joseph’s, at Monks Kirby near Rugby, but had returned home to London to find “how strongly I do love and need what is called the world”. In 1992, she moves to another CarrGomm house in west London. The correspondence ends in 1993, with Peters living in west London in one room and broke, no closer, it seems, to finding a third way to live with her past and her dual allegiances.
It appears she did briefly return to Fribourg, but it brought her no peace. In 2001, she was living in a care home in the west of England. By 2007, she had returned to Wisconsin, to a small cottage in Richland Center. She no longer wrote letters and refused invitations to give interviews. Her son, Josef, a doctor in Russia, had died in 2008.
At the time of her death – from colon cancer – Peters’ daughter Olga, now known as Chrese Evans, was living in Portland, Oregon, but had remained in daily contact with her mother. Her half-sister, Catherine, is a scientist, believed to be living in eastern Siberia.
In her 1983 autobiographical essay about her grandmother, Peters wrote, in the third person, a candid description of her own faith. It serves well as an epitaph to a troubled, rootless life of spiritual searching: “She learned a lot of things her illiterate grandmother never knew, but she had that same simple faith of her grandmother, faith of simple poor people, for whom God is all, without any doubt or any intellectual speculation.”
■ Peter Stanford is a freelance journalist.
‘Without notice or consultation, it had appeared on public land for private profit’
The Magi got much clearer and more definite responses.
“Has anything happened on the island since I was here?” It was far too leading a question to ask an island resident. But listen to the pauses and the silence as well as the evasive answer and you might guess whether anything significant has transpired and even where you might look for it.
I heard about John W, only in his sixties, who died recently after a long illness and a turbulent life on oil rigs and at sea before returning to the island with a Chinese wife. Everyone liked her and spoke of how loyally and lovingly she cared for him through his last illness. With her, he found an emotional and domestic stability he had not known before.
Until the day before he died, he smoked like a chimney and indulged his passion for betting on the horses until his vision failed and he could no longer see the television. Shortly before the end, he put on a party for his friends, which is to say almost the entire island. “Why should you have all the fun at my wake without me there?” he asked them. They came and had a long great craic even though he had to go to bed early.
Changes don’t happen alone. One leads on to another; so, we ring in the changes like bells tolling, continuously yet seemingly unexpected. St Augustine knew what time was until he had to describe it. Heraclitus said of the river of time that we never go down to the same one twice. Continuity and change and sometimes a finality like the last sound of a fading gong. New Year only reminds us that time ever flows, flies like an arrow in one direction till it falls. John’s absence means many things, one thing to Min, another for the islanders. It means we will no longer see a quiet, self-possessed Chinese woman walking the lanes of this Irish island taking a short break from her carer’s work.
These deep thoughts melted in the practical world during my first walk on the island after several months. Looking up to the crest of the hill, I saw not just the cross, which is lit up at night and is visible from the mainland as soon as the island comes into view on the road from town. There was also a strange new thing, awkwardly present, like an uninvited guest wearing the wrong clothes. A single wind generator, a three-blade turbine, rudely taller than the 1950 Jubilee Cross.
Retrospectively, the silence that my innocent question had evoked became more understandable. This was something that had happened all right and people had their feelings about it. Without notice or consultation, it had appeared on public land for private profit. But if people spoke about it at all, they spoke guardedly. It was an event, unlike John W’s departure, that could cause division for years to come. Any personal remark travels fast through the ether of a small community and acquires spin as it travels. I could hear the danger of my own too direct comment. We spend much of our life denying death. When other unpleasant things happen we instinctively find ways to deny them too. Isn’t this what must have happened in the cases of clerical child abuse over decades? You begin by downplaying its importance. It will go away. Wait and see. Don’t cause unnecessary offence. God will take care of it with time.
In the case of an illegal and antisocial wind turbine, you begin by describing, with some glee, how it broke down immediately it was turned on. But it is not easy to discuss seriously its rights and wrongs if there are no structures for discourse, no civic institutions except extended families where blood is thicker than water and stronger than the wind. It is the procrastination of unfinished business anywhere that feeds corruption in homes or in communities or states. Well, at least there is the liturgy. Here we experience sacred time not subject to the intrusions of fashion or faction or individual whim because the sacred can’t be created even by the highest Magisterium. It takes time to mature and for words to acquire the resonance and layered familiarity of funerals, weddings, anniversaries and the flow of ordinary days. But a fresh new Missal with its often dissonant piety and false-sounding archaisms, hard to understand and hard to read aloud, lay open on the altar, reminding us that nothing is sacred, even the sacred. No one I spoke to, lay or clerical, likes it. Maybe, in time, like people and scandals and the wind, it will go away.
■ Laurence Freeman is director of the World Community for Christian Meditation (www.wccm.org).
12 | THE TABLET | 7 January 2012