Here Is Where We Meet

When my mother tested positive for COVID-19 before Thanksgiving, I was winding down my fall semester. On the last Sunday of November, she left the nursing home via ambulance to the hospital. On December 7th, she returned to her home of forty-five years for hospice care. My dad, my sister Liz, my brother Scott, and I were all there to hold her hand and love on her some more. Somehow, I believe, my mother orchestrated all of it and brought her family together for our goodbyes. Meanwhile, in the final weeks of my mother’s life, John Berger’s novel Here Is Where We Meet spoke directly to me, and I had a final paper to write. This post is an excerpt. In a fusion of fiction and autobiography, Berger weaves separate and seemingly unrelated threads of memories and experience and time and space to depict the interconnectedness of life and death.

The novel begins in Lisboa with the narrator, an author named John, ruminating on his dreams. In John’s dreams his parents are alive, and he phones them for various reasons, forgetting they are dead (2-3). When the Lisboa scene resumes, John’s mother takes his arm, they cross the street, and she says, “John…The thing you should know is this: the dead don’t stay where they are buried” (3). A person who continues to live in the hearts and minds of others can never truly be dead. We carry the dead with us wherever we go, whether we are awake or asleep. John goes to Lisboa and meets his long-dead mother there.

In her farewell to John, Mother shares a final philosophy on life and some motherly advice, which shapes the course of the novel. She says, “we are here to repair a little of what was broken” (51) and “we come to the eternal conundrum of making something out of nothing” (53). She advises her son, the writer, to “Just write down what you find…and do us the courtesy of noticing us” (53). For the rest of the novel, John does his mother the courtesy of practicing her advice, noticing the dead, and writing down his memories of them. Perhaps the narrator John and the author John Berger are one in the same, and in writing this book, perhaps both Johns repair a little of what was broken.

John, the narrator, spends the rest of the book traveling throughout Europe, from Lisboa to Genève to Kraków to Islington to Le Pont d’Arc to Madrid and to the Polish village of Górecko, as if travel is one of life’s secrets. He moves fluidly between settings, the past and present, the living and the dead. His travels reveal the most important people, places, and experiences of his life. John Berger published Here Is Where We Meet at age 79, probably when he considered the influences and interconnections of life and death more than ever before. 

John Berger’s eight chapters conclude with chapter 8 ½, a one-page dialogue scene with his mother that ends where the novel begins and connects it all together. Mother repeats her earlier advice, “Just write down what you find” (237). Perhaps life ends in the same way—we remember our loved ones and their words and connect all the pieces. John’s mother returns to her point in the way that people do when they want to make sure their audience has heard the message. Yet, even after eight chapters depicting the courtesy of noticing and writing it down, John responds by saying, “I’ll never know what I’ve found.” He doubts what he knows as we all tend to do, but in truth, John has found more than he realizes, making something out of nothing.

My mother passed at home on Christmas Eve, surrounded by her family. She is no longer here, yet she is vividly here. In my mind, my beautiful Mama radiates the sheer joy of her prime and laughs a sparkling twenty-year-old laugh. She lives on through my family, in our hearts and minds, and in the countless number of trees she planted around my hometown. I can only hope to do my mother the courtesy of continuing to notice, to write down what I find, and to repair a little of what was broken..

73 thoughts on “Here Is Where We Meet

  1. Write down what you find and repair a little of what is broken. Yes!
    I lost my mother in 2011. She was my world, Crystal. My 🌎.

    But actually, I didn’t totally lose her, I know right where she is (in heaven) and I can still hear her voice saying something like, “It’s OK, sugar.” I think I shared this before on here, but I shall do so again. Thank God for Mamas!

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  2. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. As you say – we are all part of one another. And your mother most definitely lives on in you and all those she knew. I wish you strength at this time 🙏

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  3. Your mama’s smile lit up many of my growing up years, especially on Sundays, saying good morning and passing the Peace of Christ with a warm handshake or hug. The last time I spent time with her was ten years ago or so, working an afternoon at the church’s Clothing Ministry. I remember it was a lovely conversation, but I have no idea what we talked about.
    Do you remember the thing that Maya Angelou said about how people will forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel? Your mama had the gift of making people feel loved. I’m sure you know that better than most 🙂

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    1. April, I didn’t even realize the connection you shared with my Mama. It means so much that you shared with me. I absolutely remember Maya Angelou’s words, some of my very most favorite. They go right along with what Mama said, “Treat them the way you would want to be treated.” I try. I really do. Thanks so much for reading and sharing a new piece of my mother with me.

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  4. So sorry for your loss, Crystal. Mothers are precious and sometimes we do not realize that until it is too late. So glad you were all able to say good bye. Stay well, stay strong and remember. She sounds like an amazing person. Allan

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    1. In going through some of my mother’s things, I found a scrapbook with that beautiful Beta photo smile, photos I had never seen and will always cherish. I also found a copy of my grandmother’s handwritten memoirs (my mother’s mother) that I’ve been searching for at my house. And so I have quite a few pieces that live on and carry me forward. ❤️

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  5. So sorry to hear this, Crystal. Surrounding you and your family with much love. When my father passed years ago, I refinished an old trunk and painted the words Old Dogs Never Die! We use to call him The Old Dog. Big hugs to you.

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  6. It is sad to hear about a parent’s death. Been through it twice. Now I get the honor as the youngest sibling watch as all my older siblings get sick and die. One at a time with plenty of time between them to sit and ponder who’s next. Then it hit’s you… who will be there to mourn your own passing? The answer is your own kids…. Friends? naw… They will only be reminded of how close it is to their own end and be relieved it passed them by this time. If you’re wondering why I replied in such a morbid and somewhat angry tone today. It’s because I was notified that my oldest brother of which I only have two is terminally ill with liver cancer. News of sickness and death in my family always comes during the Holidays! I am truly saddened to hear of your Mother’s passing I hope she had a long and full life.

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    1. I’m so sorry to hear of your brother’s illness, and I understand the angry part. I’ve been there, too. I’ll be praying for your brother’s comfort and your peace. Take care of yourself.

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      1. 😁😁 they do seem to have a way of letting us know.. My mother loved Cardinals, so eveytime I see one I imagine it’s her letting me know she is still around and keeping an eye on me.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. “We carry the dead with us wherever we go, whether we are awake or asleep.”
    You will carry your mother with you always in your heart Crystal.
    I am glad you had a chance to say goodbye

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  8. So sorry for your loss, Crystal. Very touching post, and in that photo you look just like her based on the photos you post of yourself here now and then. Same smile and everything. I don’t have much else to say but just wanted to express my support and say, as I’ve said before, that I enjoy your writings.

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  9. So sorry to hear about your loss. Your mother sounds like a beautiful soul, what a gift she was to you all. Now you carry her memories with you in your heart and you will always be a part of her to live on. May you and yours only have good things come your way for the New Year.

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  10. I’m so sorry, Crystal, to hear of your Mother’s passing. I think every time I saw her, she had that beautiful smile on her face. My prayers are with you and the rest of your family.

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      1. Yes it sounds like it fits into a genre that I love called magical realism. My college writing professor introduced me to it. It’s popular with Latin American writers (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jose Saramago, Italo Calvino). The conversations with the dead, mix of past and present. The everyday bits of reality that appear magical or other-worldly. Can you tell I miss my college writing days? Again, thank you for the recommendation. Xx

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      2. Nice. You’re welcome. If you love magical realism, I think you might love Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore (I wrote a post over the summer) and also Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen.

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      3. Thank you! Should have known you would be familiar with it… I will read your post. I’ve heard the author’s name many times but have not read anything by him. I will add those titles to my list! 💕

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  11. Crystal, an amazing and touching story! I loss my Dad Dec 10, 2019 and Stepmom Feb 23, 2020. Both battled cancer until the end. I was home by my father’s side when he passed. My husband loss his father July 27, 2020. His father was in a Veteran Nursing Home and was 97. COVID-19 kept us from visiting him starting in Mar 2020. I believe we will get that book and read.

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  12. Oh Crystal, what a beautiful memorial here of your mother’s love and life. Yes, her love still radiates upon you and your family from above. The time apart is but a little thing compared to the eternal, joyful time together in Heaven. My prayers are with you, Friend. xxxxxxx

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    1. Thank you so much, Jean. I just reread this post. I posted it on my birthday, and one of my friends I’ve known since second grade called me that day to say she dreamed about my mother and me. Mom said, “It’s okay.” I find it so interesting that I wrote—We carry the dead with us wherever we go, whether we are awake or asleep—and then there’s Mom with my sleeping friend. Actually with both of us telling us, “It’s all okay.”

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  13. Beautifully written.
    The loss of a parent can be so heart wrenching.
    If you love reading, try Francine Rivers, Leotas Garden, Her Mother’s Hope, and Her Daughter’s Dream are all really very good.

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    1. Thank you, Debbie. I know of Francine Rivers, but haven’t read her. Redeeming Love waits on my bookshelf. Thanks for the suggestions. I’m adding these to my list. I have one more semester of school before I’m back to reading for sheer pleasure.

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