‘Til the hurly burly’s done; ‘Til the battle’s lost and won: The power of the coven

My dad has cancer. There’s no way around it, literally: the tumor on his pancreas is inoperable. He has a chemotherapy regime, and pills to mimic pancreatic enzymes, pills to mimic insulin, pills to keep him eating, pills to manage the pain. I flew to Vancouver to help out just as the Covid shut the world down and our family life shrank to the size of a six-inch human gland. I hoped to be, along with my mom and sister, a slightly sweeter pill in amongst the many bitter ones. What we have collectively become is so much more interesting.

IMG_5155William Blake described women as Emanations; his wife Catherine was his “sweet shadow of delight,” and I have long been envious of this description of love. Sometimes, this gentle dedication might be true of the Behrisch women: we make Dad laugh whenever we can, and we cater to his every need–Mom bought him a beret to cover his perpetually cold head and makes him interesting lunches; I drive him to the Korean BBQ, the European bakery, and his chemotherapy appointments; my sister picks up his prescriptions and naps with him. In these tasks, we are his willing Emanations. He needs this, and so do we. We express our love through such duties, and they strengthen the bonds between us.

Other times, though, we convene beyond the sphere of our tiny and vulnerable paterfamilias and draw strength directly from each other, high on a heath (the front porch), sometimes in rain. Mom makes a wicked homemade chai latte, hot and sweet from the cauldron, and our conversation bubbles with toil and trouble: Dad’s state, our own respective lives, how the kids are doing, our physical and existential joys and agonies. During these moments, we are no gentle Emanations, but the witches from Macbeth, the coven that vexes and perplexes, predicts and prepares for the future. Sometimes we laugh. We’re all crones now, and it lends a special richness to our cackles, a wisdom to our analyses. There’s no more hiding behind decorum, propriety, modesty. We are done with trifles. The charm’s wound up.

Our covens are rarely long, but they are powerful: they send us back into the world ready for the next step, and we don’t need the power of foresight to imagine the details of what it will look like. With swords drawn and ready for battle, and chai in the cauldron, we bear witness, and will stand together til Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane.

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